The chief justice of the high court, A.K. Mishra, on Thursday directed the state government to set up more fast-track courts for speedy trial of rape and other cases of crime against women.
The chief justice also directed all district judges to identify one or more courts of the additional district and sessions judge at the district level and also in important sub-divisions to hear and dispose of such cases within four months.
At the high court, the presiding officers of all courts have been directed to invoke Section 327 of the Criminal Procedure Code to keep the identity of rape victims under wraps. Interpreting the article, a legal expert said the chief justice "wants the rape cases to be heard in camera".
At present, the state has 151 fast-track courts that hear all types of cases.
The chief justice's order on fast-track courts was mentioned in a letter he had sent to the state law secretary. The order on special courts in districts was part of his letters to all district judges.
Following the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old in Delhi, the Supreme Court issued a directive to the high courts, asking them to take all possible steps to ensure speedy trial of rape and other cases of torture against women. While delivering a judgment recently, the chief justice of the apex court, Altamas Kabir, had expressed the need for speedy disposal of rape cases.
Legal circles welcomed the order of the chief justice of the high court, given the huge backlog of rape cases in courts across the state.
"The general public is shocked at the frequency of rape and other forms of sexual assault on women. The chief justice's order would at least hold for them the promise of a speedy trial. Speedy disposal of pending cases could act as an effective deterrent against rape," said former mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharyya, an advocate of the high court.
According to a rough estimate, more than 25,000 rape and other cases involving crime against women are pending in the 202 subordinate courts in Bengal.
A rape case usually does not come to the high court directly. "It comes either as an appeal against a lower court order or in the form of a bail petition by the accused. The high court, however, hears rape cases moved by the alleged victims accusing police of inaction," a court official said.
When contacted, a senior official in the state law department said: "We have received a letter from the chief justice's office. But even before that, the state government had decided to set up more fast-track courts."