The Supreme Court has issued significant directions to tackle the pendency of cases in criminal courts.
A division bench comprising Justice AK Goel and Justice UU Lalit was hearing a batch of appeals against the denial of bail pending trial/appeal where appellants have been in custody for a long period.
The bench considered the question as to the circumstances in which bail can be granted on the ground of delayed proceedings when a person is in custody. Senior advocate Siddharth Luthra was appointed as amicus curiae in the case.
The bench observed that in Antulay’s case, while holding that speedy trial at all stages is part of right under Article 21, it was held that if there is violation of right of speedy trial, instead of quashing the proceedings, a higher court can direct conclusion of proceedings in a fixed time.
“In the light of these principles, the present appeals can be disposed of by directing that the pending trial in the first case and the appeal in the second case may be disposed of within six months. We order accordingly and dispose of the matters to the extent of grievance in the two cases.”
The bench reiterated that speedy trial is a part of reasonable, fair and just procedure guaranteed under Article 21.
“This constitutional right cannot be denied even on the plea of non-availability of financial resources. The court is entitled to issue directions to augment and strengthen investigating machinery, setting-up of new courts, building new court houses, providing more staff and equipment to the courts, appointment of additional judges and other measures as are necessary for speedy trial,” it said.
The bench said during Joint Conference of Chief Ministers of States and Chief Justices of High Courts held in April 2015, a decision was taken that all high courts will establish arrears committees and prepare a plan to clear backlog of cases pending for more than 5 years. Such committees have reportedly been established.
According to the court, the position of five-year old cases continues to be alarming in many states. The total number of over five-year-old cases in subordinate courts at the end of year 2015 is said to be 43,19,693. The number of undertrials detained for over five years at the end of the year 2015 is said to be 3,599 and the number of appeals pending in high courts where detention period is beyond five years may be still higher.
Finally, the bench issued the following directions:
(i) Bail applications be disposed of normally within one week;
(ii) Magisterial trials, where accused are in custody, be normally concluded within six months and sessions trials, where accused are in custody, be normally concluded within two years;
(iii) Efforts be made to dispose of all cases, which are five years old, by the end of the year;
(iv) As a supplement to Section 436A, but consistent with the spirit thereof, if an undertrial has completed period of custody in excess of the sentence likely to be awarded if conviction is recorded, such undertrial must be released on personal bond. Such an assessment must be made by the trial courts concerned from time to time;
(v) The above timelines may be the touchstone for assessment of judicial performance in annual confidential reports. emphasis added)
(vi) The high courts are requested to ensure that bail applications filed before them are decided as far as possible within one month and criminal appeals, where accused are in custody for more than five years, are concluded at the earliest;
(vii) The high courts may prepare, issue and monitor appropriate action plans for subordinate courts;
(viii) The high courts may monitor steps for speedy investigation and trials on administrative and judicial side from time to time;
(ix) The high courts may take such stringent measures as may be found necessary in the light of judgment of this court, eg. Captain Harish Uppal case.
Read the Judgment here.