Criminal justice system is crumbling: SC
NEW DELHI: A startling revelation that hundreds of criminal trials in murder, rape, dacoity and kidnapping cases were pending for more than 20 years made the Supreme Court on Tuesday say in exasperation -- "the criminal justice system is either crumbling or has crumbled".
What added to the anguish of a Bench comprising Justices G S Singhvi and A K Ganguly was the fact that High Courts had stayed trials and, later, forgot all about the cases.
Taking Uttar Pradesh as a test case, solicitor general Gopal Subramaniam reeled out rather sad statistics reflecting poorly on the Allahabad High Court, which is administratively in charge of the subordinate judiciary.
Subramaniam said 10,541 criminal trials were stayed by Allahabad HC. Of these, 9% were pending for more than 20 years and 21% for over a decade. This means, stay of trial in 30% of heinous offences continued for more than 10 years.
The apex court has repeatedly ruled about the fundamental right of an accused to speedy trial and balanced it with judgments which coaxed trial courts to hear the loud cry of society to bring offenders to book.
In this backdrop, the Bench observed, "It's sad that administration of justice has come to such a pass. The HCs stay the trial and forget all about it. This means, we are choking the administration of justice. No one should be denied a fair and speedy trial. But what about the victims? What about society which feels that a wrongdoer should be punished at the earliest. Through these stays, that is being denied."
When the SG said that chief justices of HCs should play an active role in clearing the mess arising out decade-old stay orders on criminal trials, the Bench said, "The CJs are helpless. They have a tenure ranging from one year to even two months. What can a CJ do in such a brief tenure? They cannot deal with this problem as their brief tenures do not allow them to even understand the dynamics of a particular HC."
Taking a dig at the government and law officers, the Bench said, "Six months back, you (SG) and your colleagues had pioneered a programme for expeditious justice in the face of crores of cases pending in trial courts. But the entire system seems to have either crumbled or is crumbling. What we are witnessing through this case is that criminal justice system does not exist. What else can be said when 9% of cases have been stayed for more than 20 years. There has to be a debate and concrete solution."
The SG agreed and said there had been unexpected hindrances from hidden quarters that was slowing the programme. "The opaqueness and the power enjoyed by hidden actors is hindering it and we will not succeed unless we have loads of optimism. But we cannot just throw in the towel. Please use this case as a starting point for bringing about immediate reparatory measures. It has to be a joint operation by government and judiciary," he said.
The Bench also said there were thousands of cases filed in HCs which were never called for hearing. It asked the Allahabad HC to furnish details of such cases for passing of appropriate orders. The proceedings took place in a petition filed by Imtiaz Ahmed.