As the Judiciary is the supreme defender of human rights and the last resort for the dispensation of justice, with great reverence and everlasting hope, the people of India look up to this institution. It puts a very heavy duty on the whole judicial system to live up to the standards inherent in it and to retain the sacred aura attached to it unsullied. Inherent to these standards are the virtues of fairness and integrity. There is an immediate need to undertake nationally important and significant projects in a time-bound manner in a developing economy, as is the case in any modern economy. On the shoulders of the courts, the position of the judiciary places tremendous responsibility.
There is, therefore, an immediate need to ensure that no justice is postponed and that the present situation will soon be remedied. There are significant sections of the population, considering the growing incidence of dependency on the courts, who are unable to approach the judicial system because of factors such as poverty, lack of knowledge, and ingrained social discrimination. Therefore, we have an obvious paradox, i.e., even though the judicial system has been tackling a continually growing case-load, the overall social indices of access to justice are very disappointing.
In that seminal text of English law, the Magna Carta, the right to a speedy trial was initially stated. The constitutional theory argued that the right to a speedy trial has, however, expanded by almost two and a half decades in age; the target to be accomplished is still far-off. It is a term that deals with the timely dismissal of cases to make the judiciary more efficient and provide justice as soon as possible.
Backlog of Cases – Its term and phrases
When we speak about the enforcement of speedy justice, what is called delay is the fundamental issue. When an event should be counted as overdue, there is no single or clear definition of when. Sometimes, interchangeably, words such as delay, pendency, arrears, and backlog are used. This results in uncertainty. These words can be interpreted as follows, to prevent this misunderstanding and for the sake of clarification.
According to the 245th Report on Arrears and Backlogs of the Law Commission of India, pendency means all cases instituted but not disposed of, regardless of when the case was instituted, The word ‘delay‘ means ‘a case that has been in the Court/judicial system for longer than the usual time it may take to dispose of a case of that sort‘ while the term ‘arrears’ is interpreted for legitimate reasons concerning delayed cases that may be in the system for longer than the normal time; ‘Backlog‘ means that if the institution of new cases is greater in any given period than the disposal of cases in that period, the backlog is the difference between institution and disposal. This number illustrates the accumulation of cases in the system because of the failure of the system to dispose of as many instances as are being filed.
Position in India
In India, the Constitutional imperative for the timely dispensation of justice is indisputable. Justice is a constitutional and fundamental right of the people of India guaranteed by the Indian State, including its timely dispensation. It is also a fundamental duty of the Indian State to ensure prompt delivery of justice in the light of the Directive Principles of State Policy articulated in Articles 38(1), 39, and 39-A of the Constitution of India and also because of the international legal obligations of India. The Preamble of the Indian Constitution allows the State to guarantee all its people social, economic, and political justice. Article 38(1) provides that the social order under which such justice informs all the institutions of national life should be pursued by the State.
In the Indian legal system, there is no clear law guaranteeing the right to speedy justice, such as the United States Speedy Trial Act 1974. As Justice Chandramouli Kumar Prasad correctly pointed out, the concern for a speedy trial is not only an inherited mandate from American jurisprudence but also the inarticulate premise underlying in our Code of Criminal Procedure,1973. It was pointed out that, both concerning the investigation and also concerning the trial, the need for pace is explicitly understood or implied and indeed permeates the whole spectrum of the code in that sense.
Cause of Delay
Police Investigation After filing an FIR, the criminal law is put into motion and is followed by an investigation. If the police officer wants custody of another person for pre-indictment or pre-trial questioning, as part of the investigation process, he must file an affidavit sworn by him detailing the reasons for not only such custody but also the delay in obtaining police custody, if any. In the absence of a clear-cut scientific inquiry and evidence procedure, criminal prosecutions begin in an old-fashioned way, creating considerable delays and expenses and the occasional miscarriage of justice.
Service of Summons and Warrants At the stage of framing charges and during the trial, the absence of any or all of the accused or non-production of under-trial prisoners leads to the delay. The police are not making earnest attempts to arrest and deliver the absconding suspects. The execution of warrants has become the lowest priority for the police, who may be real or artificial for their purposes. The absence of any or more of the accused or non-production of under-trial prisoners at the stage of framing charges and during the trial contributes to the delay. The police are not making serious attempts to apprehend and deliver the criminals who are absconding. For the police, who may be actual or fictional for their reasons, the execution of warrants has become the lowest priority.
Examination of Witnesses The delay in questioning witnesses has several unfair implications and many factors are related to this disorder, such as an undue delay in the prosecution of cases.
Non-Implementation of Pre-Trial Hearing The idea of a pre-trial hearing has not taken deep root in India. At the pre-trial hearing, Sections 291 to 298 of the CR.P.C provide for sorting out such matters. S. 294 specifies that the specifics of each of the documents provided by the prosecution or the accused are to be included in the list and that the other side or its leader is to be called upon to accept or deny the validity of each of those documents. The document can be regarded as ‘verified’ if the genuineness of such a document is not contested. Unfortunately, this clause is rarely used.
Judiciary can’t make a law to enforce Speedy Trial
The Additional Solicitor General appearing for the appellant expressly claimed in Raj Deo Sharma that he was only seeking clarification of the judgment in the main appeal. He argued that the subordinate courts were under an incorrect impression that they had no choice but to close the proof of the prosecution with the instructions contained in the said judgment. Following a detailed review of the ratio in the judgment of Abdul Rehman Antulay, in the case and the judgment in the main appeal in the present case, the Court claimed that neither in the case of Antulay nor the main judgment of the case did it have a fixed time limit for the end of the proceedings. As such, only under certain cases has the Court laid down instructions for closing the prosecution.
There is a distinction between setting a time limit for a trial’s disposal and setting a time limit for the prosecution to complete its evidence. A review of the guidance contained in the key judgment will itself illustrate that, irrespective of the facts and circumstances of the case, there is no hard and fast law applicable to any case. If the delay is not attributable to the negligence of the prosecutor, it is open to the prosecution to bring before the Court the relevant facts and to request additional time to produce the evidence.
An integral characteristic of a fair trial is a speedy trial. A speedy trial is not only necessary for the accused, but also the defendant. The only way to stop the miscarriage of justice is by Speedy Fair trials and they are an integral part of a just society. But it’s not just about the suspects and defendants being covered. Significant protection to avoid undue and oppressive detention before trial is the statutory guarantees that guarantee speedy trial; to reduce concern surrounding public accusations and to restrict the possibilities that lengthy delays will hinder an accused’s capacity to defend himself. It also allows societies safer and stronger.
Due to undue delay in the investigation, inquiry, and prosecution of the cases, the Supreme Court quashed a variety of criminal proceedings. In the new age of science and technology, different factors such as complicated procedures, access to a police station, and FIR registration issues, police officer investigations not well-versed with the law that caused delay are no longer important. The Cr.P.C. provisions just impose obligations on the state apparatus to perform prosecutions, investigations, and courts, etc.
However, in the event of non-performance of the assigned duties by the State machinery, no accountability has been fixed. Section 309 CrPC requires day-to-day “examination of witnesses”, but no provision has been made to guarantee the security of the life and honor of witnesses or even the reimbursement of travel expenses incurred by witnesses from remote areas who come to court. Witnesses are threatened, exposed to intimidation, and kidnapped. Maltreatment is frequent in court.
Editor’s Note Justice delayed is Justice denied. The author exclaims the fact that the Right to Speedy Justice is Declared as one of the Fundamental Rights, but sadly it remains just a myth now. The author states various reasons like delay in the police investigation, providing warrants, examination of witness and etc. From the article, it can be recognized that the paramount purpose of a speedy trial is to safeguard the innocents from undue punishments but prolonged pendency has created an unmountable barrier in that.