In a recent order, the Supreme Court has directed the Chief Justices of the High Courts to prepare an action plan on the issues framed by the Supreme Court for the disposal of criminal cases pending before the High Courts, with respect to the sitting and former legislators (MPs and MLAs)
On 16.09.2020 a three Judges Bench of Justice N.V. Ramana, Justice Surya Kant and Justice Hrishikesh Roy, heard the Petition raising an issue of paramount public importance pertaining to inordinate delay in enquiry/investigation and/or criminal trials, pending against legislators under various enactments.
On the direction of the Supreme Court, eleven High Courts submitted a report furnishing information with respect to the pendency of cases and their stages of criminal cases against legislators.
After analysing the reports of the High Court, the Amicus Curiae highlighted the following shortcomings in speedy disposal of criminal cases pending against legislators:
- There is no uniformity for setting up of special courts for the legislators.
- There is no clarity as to the courts which are trying offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act 1988.
- Various High Courts have stayed proceedings in the number of cases.
- There is a gross deficiency in number of special courts constituted/designated for the hearing and disposal of the criminal cases.
- There is also a shortage of public prosecutors in these courts.
- Investigating agencies are not taking the investigation to a logical conclusion and often do not even file a charge sheet.
To meet out the shortcomings mentioned above the Amicus Curiae suggested following measures to be adopted for quick disposal of criminal trail/cases pending against the legislators:
- Special courts should be established in every district for the trial of all criminal cases against MPs/MLAs.
- The High Court may be directed to prepare a blueprint for expeditious disposal of these criminal cases.
- Special courts should prioritise the trials in the order of the gravity of punishment attached to the offence.
- Given the law laid down by the Supreme Court in the case of Asian Resurfacing of Road Agency Private Ltd versus CBI, trial Court should proceed with the trial notwithstanding any stay of the High Court unless revised order is passed extending the state by recording reasons.
- Each district should have a nodal prosecution officer, who shall be an officer not below the rank of additional superintendent of police.
- State governments should appoint at least two special public prosecutors for prosecuting cases in the special courts.
- Safe and secure witness examination rooms should be established in each Court complex.
- Each High Court may adopt rules for videoconferencing for E-courts framed by the Karnataka High Court with such modification as may be required.
After hearing the counsels, the Court opined that the Petition is of public importance because there is a rising wave of criminalisation that is occurring in the politics of the country. The Court recorded that despite all the initiatives taken by the Supreme Court in the Petition in question, there has been no improvement in the situation, when it comes to the disposal of pending criminal cases against former/sitting legislators.
The Court considered that since now it has all the information and data concerning the pendency of cases; therefore the Court found it appropriate to direct the Chief Justices of all High Courts to prepare and submit an action plan for rationalisation of the number of special courts necessary, with respect to following aspects:
- Total number of pending cases in each district.
- Required number of proportionate special courts.
- Number of courts that are currently available.
- Number of judges and subject categories of the cases.
- Tenure of the judges to be designated.
- Number of cases to be assigned to such Judges.
- Expected time for disposal of the case.
- Distance of the courts to be designated.
- Adequacy of infrastructure
Supreme Court has therefore expected that the chief justices will prepare the action plan on the aforesaid round and shall also designate a special Bench, comprising themselves and their designate, in order to monitor the progress of the trials.
The Court has also invited comments on the suggestions of the Amicus and any other additional suggestion. For the purpose of expedient disposal of pending general cases against legislators the Court has further requested the Chief Justices of all the High Courts to list forthwith all pending criminal cases involving sitting/Former legislators, particularly those wherein I stay has been granted, before appropriate benches comprising of the Chief Justice and shall at all their designates.
Upon listing of the case the courts shall first decide the issue of continuation of state, if any granted and the matter should be heard on day-to-day basis for expeditious disposal, preferably within a period of 2 months without any unnecessary adjournment.
The Court also added that the COVID-19 situation should not be an impediment to the compliance of the directions as these matters could be conveniently heard through videoconferencing.