Shortage of women judges roadblock in helping rape victims

May 4th, 2008 - 4:06 pm ICT by admin  

By Kanu Sarda
New Delhi, May 4 (IANS) The union cabinet’s decision last week to bring in amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) to help rape victims, including having women judges and conducting trial in the homes of the victims, may sound good on paper but it is not practically feasible, say legal experts. The first hitch in implementing the recommendations is that there are not enough women judges. According to the latest data provided by the ministry of law and justice, there are only 39 women judges in high courts across the country and in the Supreme Court as compared to 556 male judges.

This recommendation has also not found favour with legal luminaries.

VOicing his unhappiness, senior criminal lawyer Ram Jethmalani told IANS: “The distinction between male and female judges is unconstitutional and I am totally against it. I understand that a female judge can understand better the feeling of a rape victim, but drawing a line among sexes is unnecessary.”

Other recommendations of the cabinet are to conduct in-camera trial of rape cases and carrying out the trial at the home of the victim so that she is saved the embarrassment of being summoned to the police station. A lady police officer should also be present at the time of recording the statement, it says.

“The abysmally low number of women judges has been raised several times. The government should first work towards addressing this anomaly so that these recommendations can be implemented,” said Jethmalani.

Senior lawyer Kamini Jaiswal, who specializes in cases related to crime against women, is against recording of statement of rape victims at her home.

“The recommendation allowing the police to go and record the statement of the victim at her home is absurd. This will bring more shame to her. It will be like a public display of her agony and pain,” she told IANS.

Jaiswal said though the case would be heard by a lady judge and investigated by a lady officer, it would not be enough to save her from embarrassment in court.

“What will you do about the defence counsel, who generally asks nasty questions thereby humiliating the victims of rape cases? Will the government also ensure that in such cases only female defence counsels are allowed to fight the case?” asks Jaiswal.

Last year, 623 cases of rape were reported in New Delhi alone .

Another recommendation is that the trial of rape cases should be over in three months after the examining of witnesses.

“We welcome the move that the trial in rape cases would be done expeditiously, but for that the investigating agency will have to be sensitive and aware of the amendments,” said R.K. Naseem, a criminal lawyer.

“It’s the work of the investigating agency to complete the investigation in a speedy manner so that legal proceedings can be initiated.”

He stressed educating the investigating agencies about the need to fulfil the objectives of a fair and fast trial.

Apart from the provisions for rape victims, the cabinet also took a tough stand on witnesses who turn hostile during trial.

The amendment says that witnesses who backtrack will have to face trial and could face a maximum of two years imprisonment. Moreover, the statement of witnesses will be video-recorded.

But K.K. Sood, former additional solicitor general, feels this would not help much.

“When a witness can retract from statements given under section 164 of CrPC (recorded by magistrate), then he or she can also deny the recorded version as well. Merely recording will not serve any purpose,” said Sood.

Sood feels that before recording their statement in the court, witnesses should be grilled by the investigating agency, which would act as a deterrent to them turning hostile in court later.

Another proposal is for video-conferencing and camera recording during trial, especially rape cases.

The CrPC has been amended nine times since it was enacted in 1973.

The report also suggests that the central and state governments allocate special funds for compensation of rape victims and deposit them in court under the victim compensation scheme.

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