Justice delayed is justice denied is not just a saying anymore. If justice is not delivered on time, justice is not delivered. Justice Anand has rightly said that “People want justice, pure, unpolluted, quick and inexpensive and they have the right to receive the same.”
The speedy trial cases are one of the objects of administration of criminal justice. Various provisions have been made in the Code of criminal procedure, 1973 and the Police Act for expeditious disposal of matters at various stages. The Constitution of India, 1950 does not specifically guarantee the fundamental right to a speedy trial but it has been included implicitly in the Article 21 due to judicial activism showed in respect of Article 21 which deals with the fundamental right to life and personal liberty.
The number of pending cases across Indian Courts has been increasing. As of July 2009, 53,000 cases are pending with the Supreme Court, 40 lakhs with High Courts and 2.7 crores with lower courts. This is an increase of 139% for the Supreme Court, 46% for High Courts and 32% for lower courts from their pendency numbers in January 2000.
In 2003, 25% of pending cases with High Courts had remained unresolved for more than 10 years. In 2006, 70% of all prisoners in Indian Jails were undertrials. Fresh cases do outnumber those being resolved. There is a shortfall in the delivery of justice. There is also the weight of the backlog of older cases dragging down efficiency and creeping upwards every year.
The shortfall in deciding as many cases as are filed in a year is dwarfed by the weight added by pending cases. Since fresh cases exceed the number of cases getting resolved, this leads to an increase in pendency. Interestingly, the number of cases that are resolved each year has increased substantially over the last decade. However, this has not kept pace with the increase in fresh filings.
The Supreme Court and the High Courts of India have time and again reiterated the importance of the timely delivery of justice. Some of these decisions have already been mentioned in the preceding sections. We briefly highlight a few of the important cases below. The Supreme Court of India made it clear more than three decades ago that “speedy trial is of the essence to criminal justice and there can be no doubt that the delay in the trial by itself constitutes a denial of justice” Hussainara Khatoon v. State of Bihar (AIR 1979 SC 1364). In Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India (AIR 1978 SC 597), the Supreme Court added that “[t]here can, therefore, be no doubt that speedy trial, and by speedy trial, we mean a reasonably expeditious trial, is an integral and essential part of the fundamental right to life and liberty enshrined in Art 21.” In State of UP v. Shambhu Nath Singh (2001 4 SCC 667), the Supreme Court laid emphasis on the mandatory nature of the provisions against adjournments under Section 309, CrPC.
Article 21 of the Indian Constitution is the broad cornerstone of the right to life, liberty and due process. For this reason, it should not be surprising that this same provision that has given meaning to a fair trial and timely justice would also pose some restraints on legal reform. Thus, it should be noted that P. Ramachandra Rao v. State of Karnataka [(2002) 4 SCC 601-602], the same bench that reaffirmed the observation that “justice delayed is justice denied” warned that prescribing a time limit for trials would be an overbroad interpretation of Article 21, and indeed would amount to an impermissible form of legislation by the court. Thus, at least in the context of criminal trials, the imperative of “speedy justice” cannot include arbitrary termination of cases. Questions remain on whether the civil procedure can be reformed in such a manner, and counter-models of foreign jurisdictions adopting mandatory “milestones’ and time limits will be discussed in the “Comparative Assessment” section below.
These are the causes identified by past commissions and studies
Recommendations towards the timely delivery of justice