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Written by – Vishad Srivastava
The criminal justice system of a country is designed to protect its citizens from the onslaught of the criminal activities of a section of the community that indulges in such acts. An efficient criminal justice system is one of the cornerstones of good governance. The criminal justice system consists of the police, prosecuting agencies, various courts, the jail and a host of other institutions connected with the system. Presently, the Indian justice delivery system is facing the greatest challenge because of heavy backlog of cases in the courts and consequent delay in dispensing justice to such an extent that the public has lost faith in the justice delivery system. The State, as a guardian of fundamental rights of its citizens, is duty bound to ensure speedy trial and avoid excessively long delays in criminal trials cases that could result in grave miscarriage of justice. It is in the interest of all concerned that the guilt or innocence of the accused is determined as quickly as possible. Then again, it may not be incorrect to say that at times “justice hurried is justice buried”. Unfortunately, there are a large number of cases pending in various courts and factors such as the role of investigator, examination and lack of protection for the witnesses, lack of presiding officers, unnecessary adjournments, etc. contribute to the large pendency of criminal cases in the subordinate courts. Speedy trial of criminal cases should be recognised as a pressing need of the day. The right to speedy trial right was first given in the landmark case of English law, the Magna Carta but irony is that in our country still we do not have any specific law but it is a right which is inherent in Article 21 and just no major statue which can boon this right up. In country where more than 2.5 Crores cases are pending we can’t expect anything else rather just to have a chance of trial. 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.” Although we do not have specific laws to it but we have precedents for this right and it all started with the major case of Hussainara Khatoon vs. State of Bihar.Actually in this case on the basis of news reports that several undertrials including women and children were in prisons in Bihar awaiting their trials for years some of them have crossed the punishment years also and then too their trials were not begun. Moreover some were arrested for the pity offences where punishment was not there but they had faced more punishment years. Taking the congnizance of this Supreme Court Advocate filed a writ of haebous corpus and then by the division bench their right to speedy trial and right legal aid was recognized by the judges. Here Justice P.N. Bhagwati stated that although the right to speedy trial is not “specifically enumerated as a fundamental right, it is implicit in the broad sweep and content of Article 21” as interpreted in Maneka Gandhi Case. It was reiterated that ‘reasonable expeditious trial’ is an integral and essential part of the fundamental right to life and liberty enshrined in Article 21.
Constitutional Approach: The Constitutional mandate for the timely dispensation of justice is undeniable in India. Justice, including its timely dispensation, is a constitutional and fundamental right of the citizens of India guaranteed by the Indian State. It is also a constitutional obligation of the Indian State 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 on account of India’s international legal obligations to guarantee delivery of justice on time. The Preamble of the Indian Constitution enjoins the State to secure social, economic and political justice to all its citizens. Article 38(1) provides that the State should strive for a social order in which such justice shall inform all the institutions of national life. While interpreting this provision in L. Babu Ram v. Raghunathji Maharaj, the Supreme Court held that “social justice” would include “legal justice” which means that the system of administration of justice must provide a cheap, expeditious and effective instrument for realisation of justice by all sections of people irrespective of their social or economic position or their financial resources.” Article 39-A mandates the State to provide legal aid. It further states that “the State shall secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice to secure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities.”
Edited by – Rachit Mehrotra