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Don’t fast-track only MPs’ cases, says SC

New Delhi, Aug. 1: The Supreme Court today directed the Centre to draw up a comprehensive framework to fast-track the criminal justice system, noting this could not be done piecemeal and hinting it could not be confined to legislators as suggested by the Prime Minister.

A bench of Chief Justice R.M. Lodha and Justices Kurien Joseph and R.F. Nariman asked attorney-general Mukul Rohatgi to come up with a proposal in four weeks, stressing that one set of cases could not be fast-tracked to the exclusion of others.

The court was hearing a PIL on prolonged incarceration of Pakistani prisoners in Indian jails when it issued the order.

“This has been a continuous problem about expediting trial. This is a problem as regard to cases involving women and senior citizens. I, as the head of the judicial family, had requested state high court chief justices to have these cases fast-tracked.

“Now there is also a demand from you (government) that criminal cases where MPs and MLAs are involved should be fast-tracked. But the problem is that institutional fast-track is no longer in existence,” Justice Lodha told the AG.

Although the court did not say it in as many words, it implied that the government could not restrict itself to fast-tracking cases of only MPs/MLAs or atrocities on women to the exclusion of other accused in criminal cases.

Narendra Modi, during his election campaigns, had been stressing the need to fast-track cases against MPs/MLAs. He is of the view that cases relating to legislators should be wrapped up in a year of framing of charges.

Recently, he instructed home minister Rajnath Singh and law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad to work the out the modalities to fast-track cases relating to MPs/MLAs.

According to the Association for Democratic Reforms, the present Lok Sabha has a record number of lawmakers facing criminal charges --- 186.

The court said in the Pakistani prisoners’ case, it had in 2008 ordered completion of the trial within one year. But six years had elapsed and not much had moved.

“You must come out with a particular framework after taking all the state governments on board. I am really sorry to say but the criminal justice system is not moving at the pace I would like it to.

“I sincerely think the time has come and effort must be made to ensure that we are able to deliver fast justice. Fast-tracking of cases should not be in a piecemeal way. Let’s not have only fast-track courts to try women-related offences or senior citizen cases or MPs in criminal cases,” Justice Lodha said.

The bench said there should be a comprehensive scheme because having special courts for a particular type of case burdens the remaining courts and needs additional infrastructure.

“Ask your government to convene a meeting with state governments and come out with a comprehensive plan. My writing to chief justices does not help.

“There has to be some methodical system. Look into this aspect specifically. It should not be at the cost of other categories. We need addition of more courts and infrastructure.

“Difficulty comes in sharing the financial cost to run the additional courts. But in a federal structure, Union of India has to take a lead. Judiciary should be given due respect to make it function well,” Justice Lodha told the AG.

He said that as Chief Justice of India, he had his own limitations. “As chief justice, I have my own limitation. I can’t constitute courts. There has to be evolution of a system to fast-track all cases.

“For example, in Delhi many special courts have been constituted — one for Italian marines’ case and the other for the December 16 gang rape. But due to this other cases suffered.

“As an AG, you have a tremendous role to play. You must study yourself, get the figures and come out with a framework. You have to work very hard on it. We have a very efficient AG.”

He said courts might not be a source for generating revenue but helped in maintaining law and order and good governance.

“Strengthening judiciary should be the first priority and that is also the motto of our Constitution,” he said.

The apex court then passed the following order:

“We want to know from the AG whether Union of India is contemplating fast-tracking criminal trials and, if so, whether a concept has been framed and steps taken in this regard.

“Fast-tracking of cases without additional courts and infrastructure creates more burden on other category of cases that are left out of fast-track.

“For good governance, it’s necessary courts are strengthened and criminal justice is fast-tracked. It’s high time that central government takes positive steps in consultation with the state governments in fast-tracking the criminal justice system so that criminal justice is delivered expeditiously.

“Mr Attorney-General assures us that he will have a comprehensive look at the problem and come out with a proposal within four weeks. List it (matter) after four weeks.”

Earlier, senior advocate Bhim Singh and counsel B.S. Bilworia said lengthy trials of foreign prisoners, mostly Pakistanis languishing in Indian jails for 10-15 years, had negated the concept of Indian democracy and weakened the rule of law and authority of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

They said some foreign prisoners had been facing trial for a decade or so and, in some cases, investigations were still going on according to the reply of state governments.

Rohatgi, however, told the court that 15 Pakistani prisoners had been released in 2014 and their names had figured in the PIL filed by Singh in 2008 for their release.