J. Venkatesan

New Delhi: Holding that speedy trial is a constitutional right, the Supreme Court has said that the court can quash criminal proceedings if there is inordinate delay in the investigation or conclusion of the trial.

A Bench comprising Justices C.K. Thakker and D.K. Jain said: “It is well settled that the right to speedy trial in all criminal prosecutions is an inalienable right under Article 21 of the Constitution [right to life and liberty]. This right is applicable not only to the actual proceedings in court but also includes within its sweep the preceding police investigations as well.

“The right to speedy trial extends equally to all criminal prosecutions and is not confined to any particular category of cases. In every case, where the right to speedy trial is alleged to have been infringed, the court has to perform the balancing act upon taking into consideration all the attendant circumstances and determine in each case whether the right to speedy trial has been denied in a given case.”

Writing the judgment, Justice Jain said, “where the court comes to the conclusion that the right to speedy trial of an accused has been infringed, the charges or the conviction, as the case may be, may be quashed unless the court feels that having regard to the nature of offence and other relevant circumstances, quashing of proceedings may not be in the interest of justice. In such a situation, it is open to the court to make an appropriate order as it may deem just and equitable including fixation of time for conclusion of trial.”

A case was registered by the Anti-Corruption Bureau, Maharashtra government in 1987 against 12 persons — nine employees off the government milk plant and the remaining three, including the appellant Pankaj Kumar and his parents, —for various offences under the Indian Penal Code and under the Prevention of Corruption Act.

After three years of investigation, a chargesheet was filed in 1991 and the trial court took cognisance of it. The appellant and his mother moved the Bombay High Court. During the pendency of the petition, his parents died. A single judge rejected the petition.

“Having regard to the nature of accusations against the appellant, who was a young boy of 18 years in 1981, when the acts of omission and commission were allegedly committed by the concerns managed by his parents, who have since died, we feel that the extreme mental stress and strain of prolonged investigation by the ACB and the sword of Damocles hanging perilously over his head for over 15 years must have wrecked his entire career,” the Bench said.