Right to speedy trial is guaranteed by the constitution through Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. In Sheela Barse V Union of India[i], the court stated that speedy trial is a fundamental right. In the Indian justice system, one of the main hindrances in its proper functioning is the huge amount of cases pending before the courts. The rate of pendency of cases in increasing but the disposal rates are not increasing.
According to a report, as of April 2018, there are over three crore cases pending before all courts in India. Among all the other courts in India, large numbers of criminal cases are filed only in subordinate courts. 81% of the criminal cases are pending in the subordinate courts.[ii]
Reasons for pendency of cases:
There are several reasons for the delay of filing criminal cases in India:
- Delay in filing FIR: FIR stands for First Information Report. Section 154 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 deals with the information given to the police officers with respect to the cognizable offences. Any information orally given to the police officers shall be reduced to writing and read over to the informant and the informant must sign the same. Though the term FIR has not been expressly mentioned, it is understood from the words of the section.[iii]
- Due to the vacancy of judges in subordinate courts, there were more persons in under trial (who are waiting for trial proceedings) than those who were convicted. As of 2015, there were four lakh prisoners in jails. Of them, 2.8 lakh were in under trial and remaining were convicts.[iv] In Hussainara case the court reiterated that the investigation must be completed within the time bound period and specific orders must be given for quick disposal of cases of under trial case.
- Non appearance of the parties to the trial: The parties to the case are obliged to appear before the court for chief and cross examination. Once the summons are issued they must appear before the court. Some fear courts and fail to appear for trial. The case could not be moved further without the statements of the parties in the previous examination. Hence the parties are under the obligation to appear at the stipulated time as mentioned in their summon.
- Investigative process may delay the proceedings: Investigation includes all the proceedings that are carried out in order to obtain the evidence by any police officer. According to the report submitted by the National Police Commission, the present system of criminal justice administration and procedures involve a lot of delay in the ultimate disposal of the criminal cases. This is mainly due to the poor investigation procedures carried out by the police officers. [v]
- The non availability of the witnesses to the case may cause delay: The summons that is issued by the prosecution in order to make the witnesses appear in their cases. They may fail to appear for the cases due to the fear of cross examination and in certain cases the summons would not have reached the particular person who is to be present for that particular case.
- Strikes by lawyers: The lawyers may hold vakalatnama for the parties and they fail to appear in the cases that they had already engaged. These strikes may infringe the fundamental right of the litigant ( right to speedy trial) as mentioned under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.
- Improper issue of warrants to the parties to the criminal cases may cause unnecessary delay in the trial proceedings.
- Delay caused due to the appeals: Cases are that referred to the higher courts are appeals. The whole process of appeal is cumbersome when the case is not properly tried in appeal. The witnesses may not appear properly for the case which delays the cross examination process. This is one of the reasons for delay in criminal justice administration.
Solutions to the delay:
There are certain procedures in the Criminal Procedure Code which can be strictly adhered in order to reduce the delay in filing criminal cases.
1. Chapter XXXVI of the Criminal Procedure Code (Section 467 to Section 473) describes the limitation period for the prosecution as a procedure for trial of offences. Section 483 of the Criminal Procedure Code, gives high court the power to exercise its superintendence over the subordinate courts to ensure that there has been proper procedures carried out for proper disposal of cases by the magistrates.[vi]
2. Section 309 of the Criminal Procedure Code states that every inquiry or trial shall be held as expeditiously as possible and when the examination of the witness has once begun the same has to be continued day to day until all the witnesses have been examined.[vii]
3. The period of limitation must be strictly construed as mentioned under Section 468 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. The limitation period for filing a criminal case must be computed from the date in which that particular offence took place and not the date from which the magistrate took cognizance.[viii]
A) In case of any offence that is punishable with fine only, then the period of limitation is six months.
B) In case of any offence that is punishable with imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year, then the period of limitation is one year.
C) In case of any offence that is punishable with imprisonment for a term exceeding one year not less than three years, then the period of limitation is three years.[ix] Proper compliance with this provision may reduce the pendency of cases across the country.
4. Better investigative methods can be carried out by the investigative officers with the use of modern technological methods.
5. Alternative dispute resolution methods can be used as an alternative for resolving issues. These are out of the court proceedings. One such method of alternate dispute resolution is arbitration. In arbitration, the parties rely on third party to arrive at a binding judgment. ADR mechanisms are of great need to the judiciary because of the pendency of cases before both civil and criminal courts. Programmes like victim-offender mediation programmes, community crimes prevention programmes are initiated in order to prevent crimes and maintain order in the society.[x]
6. Probation proves to be an effective device in preventing crimes. The offenders are not given jail punishment in case of probation and they must report before any probation officer. This process helps in determining the character and conduct of the offender and when the offender is proved to be of good character he will released.
Police officers have a significant duty of preventing the cognizable offences from happening. Cognizable offences are those under which the police officer can arrest the person causing such offence without any warrant in hand. The rates of criminal cases registered in the subordinate courts are increasing over the years. But the conviction rate is not in par with the arrest rate. The gap is increasing because more number of persons are kept under trial and the trial proceedings are not commenced. The judiciary has to take necessary actions to reduce the gap.
Edited by Pragash Boopal
Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje
[i] MANU / SC/ 0116/ 1896
[iii] Section 154 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1972
[v] S.K.Chathurvedi, Role of Police in criminal justice system, (1996), P.40