A famous British historian said that,’ Delay is the deadliest form of denial”. The Right to Speedy Trial was first mentioned in the landmark document Magna Carta. Clause 40 of Runnymede Charter, 1225 disallowed the selling of justice or its denial or delay. The Right to Speedy Trial is intended to ensure that defendants are not subjected to unreasonably lengthy incarceration prior to fair trial. Article 21 of Indian Constitution provides that, ‘No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law’. This Article reminds us of one of the famous clauses of the Magna Carta, ‘No man shall be taken or imprisoned, disseized or outlawed, or exiled, or in any way destroyed save by the Law of Land’. Adopting a liberal interpretation The Honb’le Supreme Court of India has read several rights in article 21 to make ‘life’ more meaningful and worth living. One of those interpretations is Right to speedy, fair and open trial.
A person could be innocent, yet he may suffer confinement or anxiety or both because judicial system fails to reach a verdict for many years. Justice should be provided to the person himself and not to his/her sons/daughters. The practice of some judges in delaying the delivery of judgments for several months, and in certain cases, even till they retire from service, has been cause of delayed justice. The Ram Janam Bhoomi Case is the strong authority to prove this. The courts have built up huge bundle of undecided case files. There are many more cases which substantiate this connotation like Hussainara Khatoon V. ORS, Raj Deo Sharma V. State of Bihar. Delay is caused by the laxity shown by the courts in matters like production of witnesses on the dates posted for their examination, granting requests for adjournments of cases without good reasons, inordinate delays in giving copies of documents, allowing lengthy arguments by the advocates, and the practice of judges themselves writing unnecessarily long judgments. The liberal attitude of the courts in entertaining appeals from the lower courts has also contributed to the steady increase in the backlog. Those who have the financial resources go on appeal on the decisions of the lower courts to the next higher court, and finally to the Supreme Court, even when no interpretation of the law may be involved.
Justice Krishna Iyer while dealing with the bail petition in Babu Singh v. State of UP, remarked, “Our justice system even in grave cases, suffers from slow motion syndrome which is lethal to ‘fair trial’ whatever the ultimate decision. Speedy justice is a component of social justice since the community, as a whole, is concerned in the criminal being condignly and finally punished within a reasonable time and the innocent being absolved from the inordinate ordeal of criminal proceedings.” In Sheela Barse v. Union of India court reaffirmed that speedy trial to be fundamental right. Right to speedy trial is a concept gaining recognition and importance day by day.
The magnitude of the problem of the pendency of cases in various levels in the judiciary must be understood in the context that the people resort to judicial remedy as a last resort for the redressal of their grievances and to get justice. This is so because people have reposed their ultimate faith and trust in the judicial system above the legislature and executive. In this context pendency of cases hits the common man, seeking justice, the hardest. Perhaps, that is the reason that it is said justice delayed is justice denied. An important factor which needs to be kept in view is that in India, according to the Law Commission’s 120th Report titled “Manpower Planning in Judiciary: A Blueprint”, submitted in 1987, the ratio between judges and population is 10.5 judges per million, whereas it is 107 per million in USA, 75.2 per million in Canada, 50.9 per million in U.K. and 41.6 per million in Australia. B.P. Singh gave an approx statistics showing an average disposal and pendency of cases which would rather reveal the actual state of justice in India today:
On average 50 lakh crimes are registered every year, which are sought to be investigated by the police. The pendency of criminal cases in subordinate courts is 1.32 crore and the effective strength of judges is 12,177. Pending cases of the under trials in criminal cases are 1.44 crores. In an average 19 percent of the pending cases, disposed every year.
The accused in the cases might have been on bail – but the injustice of pendency of trial for long periods is the uncertainty and the concomitant anxiety suffered by the under-trial. The under-trial is inhibited in making future plans for his life or executing present ones due to the uncertainty which pendency of trial brings. His confidence starts to erode and at the end of the trial, even if he is honourably acquitted, the scars of the long trial remain. He feels condemned despite the acquittal.
However, in spite of the various measures taken by the Government and the judiciary itself, it is a matter of serious concern that the pendency or arrears of cases has been increasing steadily over the years bringing the judicial system as a whole to near stagnation. Further, the pendency of cases in the Supreme Court is very reflective of the delays in the judicial system, thus, a cause of extreme concern requiring immediate remedial steps. No serious attempts are being made by the judiciary to make use of the provisions in the Constitution for engaging the services of retired judges both at the Supreme Court and at the High Courts for temporary periods for help in clearing the backlog of cases. Effective management of the courts is possible only when once in a couple of months or days problems faced by the litigants, lawyers and judges are discussed. Time scheduling should be done so that there is effective management of time leading to effective management of judicial system. The ratio of judges to population should be increased which will help in disposal of cases very fast. Amendment is required so that procedural delays do not occur. Moreover, the state must look up that there are adequate no. of courts to cope up with the work load and timely appointment of judges. Reformation is necessary so as to make the implementation of the right in the right conduct which is the need of the hour.
The right to speedy trial is not a fact or fiction but a “Constitutional reality” and it has to be given its due respect. A delay in justice is not only unfairness but social injustice. The mental pressure imposed on the accused due to delayed justice is wholesome inhuman act. Courts may provide justice after taking long time but no court can ever provide the compensation of mental persecution, social isolation and self respect and self-esteem…