Day 2 ArgumentsPOCSO Implementation
July 25th 2019
Today, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court – comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice Deepak Gupta and Justice Aniruddha Bose – directed the Union government to release funds for setting up special courts in every district with a 100 or more pending cases under the POCSO Act. The court ordered speedy trials in all cases and directed that special courts be set up within 60 days.
On 12 July, the Supreme Court took note of the inordinate delay in disposing child rape cases. The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 provides for Special Courts and procedures to ensure case disposal within a year of the offence being reported. However, as on 12 July, trial was completed in only 900 of the 24,212 cases registered in 2019 from 1 January to 30 June. Therefore the court, on its own motion, instituted a writ petition to issue guidelines and directions for the speedy disposal of child abuse cases. It appointed senior advocate V Giri as the Amicus Curiae to suggest guidelines for speedy disposal.
On 15 July, the court directed Amicus Curiae V Giri to collect information about the total pending POCSO cases in each district.
Amicus Curiae V Giri presented a status report containing several suggestions for the timely completion of investigation and trial in POCSO cases. He submitted that that prosecutors and judges dealing with POCSO cases must be sensitised. He also requested the court to direct the establishment of exclusive forensic labs in each district for POCSO cases as a 6 to 8 month delay is usual in the filing of forensic reports in POCSO cases. He added that the architecture of juvenile courts is different from regular courts as the victim child, accompanied by a support person, is separated from the accused.
Amicus Curiae V Giri also highlighted the need for qualified support persons and sufiicient POCSO courts.
The Supreme Court Registrar Surinder S Rathi submitted that 1.5 lakh POCSO cases were pending. Uttar Pradesh has the highest number of pending cases, with over 44,000 cases pending since 2012. The national average rate of disposing POCSO cases between 2014 and 2017 was 24%.
Justice Deepak Gupta noted that infrastructure was lagging even in the existing POCSO courts as they did not have vulnerable witness protection rooms and video conferencing.
Chief Justice Gogoi noted that usually only a mere curtain separates the victim from the accused in courts where Special Public Prosecutor questions the victim. He added that the enactment of POCSO legislation had been accompanied by many media statements by legislators, but implementation has not been followed.
Both V Giri and Surinder Rathi suggested that further time be granted for the complete collection of data on POCSO cases.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Union government, informed the court that two child special courts were established in Saket, New Delhi. However, the Chief Justice questioned how many such courts had been set up in other states such as Tripura and Odisha.
Chief Justice Gogoi noted that the court was concerned about States which lacked the requisite infrastructure for conducting trial proceedings in POCSO cases. He noted the absence of basic facilities in the offices of district magistrates and presiding officers, and stated that new laws entail new responsibilities and burdens on them. He quipped that this was among the real issues affecting the judiciary.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta suggested that one Judge from every High Court monitor the functioning of POCSO special courts. Chief Justice Gogoi responded that most High Court judges had a causelist with over 400 cases and stated that the Supreme Court would monitor the POCSO special courts as it has fewer cases.
- The court directed the Union government to release funds for establishing the special courts in every district with more than 100 POCSO cases. These special courts must begin functioning within 60 days and must only try offences under the POCSO Act.
- The Union government’s funds must be sufficient to appoint presiding officers, Special Public Prosecutors and court staff as well as address infrastructure needs in court complexes including creating a child-friendly environment and vulnerable witness courtrooms etc.
- Further, a panel comprising an appropriate number of support persons who are oriented to child rights and are child friendly be appointed. The standards for appointing such support persons must be the same as those applied for appointing public prosecutors.
- Since one of the major causes of lengthy investigation for POCSO cases is the delay in receiving forensic reports, the Chief Secretaries of States and the Directors of State Forensic Science Laboratories are directed to ensure that existing forensic laboratories function efficiently and send analysis reports for samples collected under the POCSO Act immediately, without any delay.
- The Ministry of Women and Child Development must ensure that a short clip spreading awareness on the prevention of child abuse and prosecution of offences under the POCSO Act must be screened in all movie theatres and television channels. A child helpline number should be displayed in such screenings and in prominent public places such as schools.
The next hearing is on 26 September. However, in four weeks’ time, the Union government is required to update the court on its progress in establishing special courts.