Asks courts to decide bail pleas in one week, lawyers’ strike illegal
New Delhi: “Timely delivery of justice is a part of human rights,” the Supreme Court said on Friday and fixed deadlines for deciding long-pending criminal cases in high courts and trial courts across India..
Issuing a slew of directions to all high courts, a bench of Justices Adarsh Kumar Goel and U U Lalit said, “Denial of speedy justice is a threat to public confidence in the administration of justice” and the fundamental right to speedy trial “cannot be denied even on the plea of non-availability of financial resources”.
It asked the high courts to issue directions to subordinate courts to decide bail pleas “normally within one week”, besides asking magistrates to conclude trial in petty offences, where under trials are in jails, within six months.
The sessions courts will have to conclude trials in serious offences within two years, if the accused are in jail, the apex court said, adding strict adherence to the timeline be ensured by making it a part of Annual Confidential Reports of judicial officers.
“Efforts be made to dispose of all cases which are five years old by the end of the year,” it said, adding “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 concerned trial courts from time to time.”
“The timelines may be the touchstone for assessment of judicial performance in annual confidential reports,” it said.
The apex court then issued guidelines for the high courts as well and asked them “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”.
It also asked the high courts to prepare, issue and monitor appropriate action plans for subordinate courts.
“The high courts may monitor steps for speedy investigation and trials on administrative and judicial side from time to time,” it said.
It also requested the Chief Justices of all high courts to “forthwith take appropriate steps” in pursuance of earlier directions issued by the apex court in various judgements.
The apex court said appropriate monitoring mechanism on the administrative side as well as on the judicial side be set up by high courts for speedy disposal of cases of undertrials pending in subordinate courts and appeals pending in high courts.
The Supreme Court said its order be sent to all the courts in the country.
“We do consider it necessary to direct that steps be taken forthwith by all concerned to effectuate the mandate of the fundamental right under Article 21, especially with regard to persons in custody, in view of the directions already issued by this court.
“It is desirable that each high court frames its annual action plan fixing a tentative time limit for subordinate courts for deciding criminal trials of persons in custody and other long-pending cases and monitors implementation of such timelines periodically,” the court said in its 22-page order.
It is “desirable” for Chief Justices of all high courts to take other steps consistent with the directions already issued by this court for expeditious disposal of pending criminal appeals where persons are in custody.
The court also reiterated its directions for setting up adequate number of forensic laboratories to speed up investigation in pending cases where accused are in custody.
“Specification of some of these issues is in addition to implementation of other steps including timely investigation, timely serving of summons on witnesses and accused, timely filing of charge-sheets and furnishing of copies of charge-sheets to the accused. These aspects need constant monitoring by high courts,” it said.
The bench also dealt with issue of frequent strike calls by lawyers and the condolence meetings leading to stopping of judicial work.
“Such suspension of work or strikes are clearly illegal and it is high time that the legal fraternity realizes its duty to the society which is the foremost. Condolence references can be once in a while periodically. Say once in two/three months and not frequently,” it said.
“In any case, this needs attention of all concerned authorities – the Central Government/State Governments/Bar Councils/Bar Associations as well as the High Courts and ways and means ought to be found out to tackle this menace,” it said.
Judicial service as well as legal service are not like any other services but missions for serving the society, it said, adding its goals are not achieved if the litigant waiting in the queue does not get his turn for a long time.
It is the constitutional obligation of governments to provide financial and other assistance to ensure smooth functioning of the judicial system, the bench said.
The bench was hearing pleas filed by one Hussain and others alleging they were behind bars while their trial was getting delayed.