The Supreme Court has directed the High Courts of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Patna, Rajasthan, Bombay and Orissa to file affidavits submitting their 'plan of action' for deciding the criminal appeals that have been pending before the High Courts for a long period of time.
The bench of Justice L. Nageswara Rao and S. Ravindra Bhat was considering a criminal appeal against an order of Allahabad High Court rejecting suspension of sentence of a convict in a murder case.
While hearing this case, the bench noted that a large number of criminal appeals are pending in certain High Courts for long periods of time.
Referring to statistics in the National Judicial Data Grid, the bench noted that the total number of criminal appeals in such High Courts which have been pending for 30 years or more is 14484. Criminal appeals which have been pending for over twenty years- and up-to thirty years are 33,045; criminal appeals which have been pending for over ten years, upto 20 years are 2,35,914. The Court also specifically noted the long pendency of criminal appeals in the High Courts of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Patna, Rajasthan, Bombay and Orissa. It said:
These facts pose a challenge to the judicial system, inasmuch as right to speedy trial would also include the right to speedy disposal of appeals of those convicted. If such appeals are not taken up for hearing within a reasonable time, the right of appeal itself would be illusory, inasmuch as incarcerated convicts (who are denied bail) would have undergone a major part- if not whole of the period of their sentence. The other challenge is to ensure that old criminal appeals, where High Courts had earlier, in the course of proceedings, granted bail or suspension of sentence. It is in public interest- and the interests of the convicts, that such appeals too are disposed of on merits expeditiously.
The High Courts have been directed to address the following aspects in the affidavit:
(a) Total number of convicts awaiting hearing of their appeals pending before them. (b) Segregation of single judge and Division Bench matters; (c) The number of cases where – in such old pending cases, bail has been granted;(d) Steps proposed to expedite hearing of appeals, including steps to prioritize hearing of cases of convicts in jail (e) Steps proposed to trace and ensure hearing of cases of those who were granted bail, and the timeline for starting hearings (f) Appropriate use of information technology, such as digitization of appeal records/paper books (g) Feasibility of creation of a dedicated pool of amicus curiae who would assist the court in such old matters (h) Feasibility to creation of dedicated special benches for hearing and disposal of old cases or alternatively assigning a certain number of appeals to a large number of judges to be decided by them, regardless of which rosters they are assigned.
The High Courts have been also directed to co-ordinate with the Director General Prisons, in their respective states, to compile data with respect to convicts in jails of those states, who are awaiting hearing of their appeals.
The matter is posted on 29 July 2020.
Devadatt Kamat Sr Advocate assisted by Rajesh Inamdar, Advocate argued for the petitioners.
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