Following directions by Top Court to High Courts of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Patna, Rajasthan, Bombay and Orissa for apprising the Court of their 'plan of action' viz. deciding criminal appeals that have been pending, the High Courts of Orissa & Bombay have filed their Affidavits.
The High Courts were 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 by a bench comprising Justice L. Nageswara Rao and S. Ravindra Bhat.
High Court of Orissa's Affidavit:
The High Court of Orissa's affidavit has been filed on behalf of the Registrar Shri Ranjan Dash and states that as per the National Judicial Data Grid portal, there are 8 Criminal Appeals which have been pending for 30 years, 832 for 20-30 years and 8884 cases pending for 10-20 years.
In terms of this this, the Orissa HC states that the 832 cases pending for 20-30 years, 643 are Criminal Appeals while the rest are of "different nature" of criminal cases.
"It is apt to explain that 643 Criminal Appeals includes 10 numbers of appeals against orders, 7 appeals have already been disposed of including one transferred to Lower Court for disposal and 133 cases are filed agains the acquittal judgments. thus, there are only 493 numbers of Criminal Appeals are pending against the judgement of conviction. From these 493 Criminal Appeals, in 490 Appeals, bail has been granted, one appeal is against the sentence of fine, one appeal is against order of conviction and release under P.O. Act and in one appeal although bail was granted, but subsequently the order of bail was cancelled for non-appearance of lawyer and NBW was issued..."
The affidavit also states that out of the 8884 criminal cases pending for 10-20 years, 5026 are a different nature of criminal case and the rest are Criminal Appeals.
In this backdrop, the HC has stated that in terms of the order of Top Court, the arrears Committee of the HC on the basis of statistical information has come up with an action plan for early disposal:
1) All appeals shall be affixed with a flag containing all elaborate details of the case(s);
2) At least one dedicated Division Bench and two Single benches for dealing with Criminal appeals on priority basis - with discretion to regulate proceedings;
3) Dates and written arguments before hearings to be submitted for every case;
4) Oldest cases to be listed on priority, Convicts with serious health condition to be given priority;
5) Prioritise digitisation of lower court records;
6) Creation of a dedicated pool of Amicus Curiae, proposal on enhancement of free structure of Amicus Curaie.
The Orissa HC has also stated that it was unable to effectively undertaken this progression in light of lockdown
High Court of Bombay's Affidavit:
The High Court of Bombay has filed it's affidavit on behalf of its Registrar, Amogh S. Kaloti, stating that as on July 1, 4423 convicts in jail have preferred 3352 Criminal Appeals which are pending.
12351 CA's bail pleas are currently pending. Thus, classifying these appeals, the Bombay HC states that 0 appeals have been pending for 20-30 years, 12 between 10-20 years while 3340 are less than 10 years old. Out of 12351 pending appeals by convicts on bail, 0 are more than 30 years old, 697 are between 20-30 years, 5324 between 10-20 years 6330 less than 10 years old.
In this backdrop, it is states that the Maharashtra State Legal Services Authority has prepared a questionnaire for eliciting relevant information from convicted prisoners so as to submit to the DG of Prisons, which has not yet been filed by the DG and more time is sought for the same,
"Said authority requires some time to collect and compile the requisite data as it is not working with full staff strength and many of them have tested positive for Coronavirus infection"
Thus, the HC states that in co-ordination with MSLSA, data will be "re-verified" once requisite information is available. Further, as part of Plan of Action for deciding the CA's, the HC states that it has proposed dedicated Benches for hearing of all CA's at its Principle Seat at Bombay and benches at Nagpur and Aurangabad.
"Two Division Benches and two Single Benches shall hear Criminal Appeals exclusively."
Special benches for taking up old Criminal Appeals shall be constituted on Saturdays, if consented to by the parties, the affidavit states and highlights that it shall take up scanning and digitisation of records as well.
"A Letter of Award for scanning and digitisation of the records at the principle seat at Bombay and Benches at Nagpur and Aurangabad on turnkey basis has also been issued to Newgen Software Technologies. Work of Document Management System by Awardee is in procees"
Last month, while considering a criminal appeal against an order of Allahabad High Court rejecting suspension of sentence of a convict in a murder case, the Top Court had noted that a large number of criminal appeals are pending in certain High Courts for long periods of time. 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.
The High Courts had been directed to address the following aspects in the affidavit and the matter was put up for further consideration on July 29:
(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.