Cannot Pass Omnibus Directions on Expeditious Trial of Lawmakers in Criminal Cases: SC

 The Supreme Court on Tuesday said it cannot pass an “omnibus” order asking all high courts to ensure that special trial courts exclusively deal with criminal cases involving lawmakers and not take up other matters before concluding such trials.

A bench comprising Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justice P S Narasimha made the observations while dealing with the 17th report of amicus curiae and senior advocate Vijay Hansaria, who has been assisting it in the hearing of a PIL seeking expeditious disposal of criminal cases against MPs and MLAs.

“How can we pass omnibus directions to all the high courts? In some special courts, the number of pending cases against lawmakers may be less in comparison to other courts,” said the bench.

It said that a report on the pendency of such cases in a particular district may help in passing a specific order on speedy trial.

“Let the high courts (registry) look at the suggestions made in the 17th report of the amicus and submit a status report in this court,” the bench said.

At the outset, amicus curiae Hansaria said he was seeking directions to ensure expeditious disposal of long-pending trials against MPs and MLAs as there were over 5,000 cases against such politicians.

“I am seeking some urgent directions from this court. Please take up the 17th report of amicus filed on November 14, last year,” he said, adding that the trial against the legislators must be expedited and that has been the goal of this court for the last two decades.

The bench perused the suggestions mooted by Hansaria in his report and prima facie observed that there cannot be omnibus directions to the high courts.

There were 4,112 cases pending against lawmakers seven years ago and now the number has gone up to 5112 cases, he said, adding that urgent directions were needed.

“Please see a particular state, check cases pending there and then see the trial court judges available. Then we can ask the high court to direct something. Let us go state by state in a systematic manner,” the bench said while adjourning the hearing on the PIL filed by lawyer Ashwini Updhyay.

According to the report, the total number of pending cases against lawmakers in December 2021 was 4,984 and out of these 1899 matters are pending trial for more than five years.

The report said that till October 4, 2018, 2775 cases have been decided by the special court designated to deal with them.

“The courts dealing with cases against MPs/MLAs shall exclusively try these cases. Other cases would be taken up only after trials of such cases are over. The trial would be conducted on a day to day basis in terms of section 309 Cr.P.C. Necessary allocation of work would be made by the High Court and/or the Principal Sessions Judges of every district within two weeks,” the amicus said in its report.

No adjournment shall be granted except in rare and exceptional circumstances and for reasons to be recorded, he suggested, adding “Both the prosecution and defence shall cooperate with the trial of the case and no adjournment shall be granted.”

The report said 51 former and sitting parliamentarians face Prevention of Money Laundering Act cases lodged by the Enforcement Directorate.

It also said that 71 MLAs and MLCs are accused in cases arising out of offences under Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002.

The status report had also informed that 121 cases lodged by the CBI are pending against MPs and MLAs, including former and sitting members.

The top court from time to time has been passing directions on the plea filed by Upadhyay for ensuring expeditious trial of cases against lawmakers and speedy investigation by the CBI and other agencies.

The apex court had earlier asked all high courts to furnish details of criminal cases pending for over five years against MPs and MLAs, and the steps taken for their speedy disposal.

It had also modified its August 10, 2021 order by which it had said judicial officers, who are holding trials of cases against law makers, should not be changed without the prior permission of the court.

On August 10, 2021, the Supreme Court had curtailed the power of state prosecutors and ruled that they cannot withdraw prosecution against lawmakers under the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) without the prior sanction of high courts.

It had expressed strong displeasure over the non-filing of requisite status reports by the Centre and its agencies such as the CBI, and indicated it would set up a special bench in the top court to monitor criminal cases against politicians.

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