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Criminal justice process itself a punishment, says CJI

“Preferrably we should set a goal that no trial exceeds 3 years, and no appeal from a trial should take over a year,” Chief Justice of India R.M. Lodha said in his Independence Day annual speech on Friday. Photo: R.V. Moorthy

“Preferrably we should set a goal that no trial exceeds 3 years, and no appeal from a trial should take over a year,” Chief Justice of India R.M. Lodha said in his Independence Day annual speech on Friday. Photo: R.V. Moorthy

The criminal justice delivery system had failed so much so that the process itself had become a punishment, Chief Justice of India R.M. Lodha said in his Independence Day speech on Friday.

It offers nothing more than pain, suffering, human rights exploitation and deprivation of liberty, especially to the most vulnerable sections of the society, he said.

“A curious and tragic paradox is that our prisons house more undertrial prisoners than convicts. In almost all central prisons, more than 50 per cent are undertrial prisoners; in district prisons more than 72 per cent are undertrial prisoners. The process itself has become a punishment. As head of judiciary, I cannot feel more pain than that,” the Chief Justice said.

“Preferably, we should set a goal that no trial exceeds three years, and no appeal from a trial should take over a year,” he added.

He asked whose fault was it that men and women languish in jail without dignity and freedom, awaiting trial.

“I was shocked to learn that two lakh criminal trials are pending all over the country which are more than five years old and 40,000 trials are pending which are over 10 years old. In the Supreme Court by the end of the year, over 65,000 cases are pending. These are peanuts compared to what we are seeing all over the country,” Justice Lodha noted.

Conviction rates

The Chief Justice also said that conviction rates have dipped abysmally due to corruption and ineptitude of law enforcement agencies, starting with local investigation officer. He pointed to how conviction rates slumped from 62.5 per cent in 1972 to 32 per cent in 2012.

“A robbery is implicated as theft, a rape is implicated as molestation, a kidnapping is registered as elopement. Conversely, molestation is registered as rape, a theft is registered as robbery and elopement becomes kidnapping. The result is there is no legal evidence to sustain the conviction,” he said. He criticised the lawyers who treat the delay in criminal justice delivery as an opportunity instead of a blemish.

Referring to Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, sitting on the same dais, he said as a Minister who is also in charge of telecom and IT sector, it was “high time that tools of technology are provided to the police, the prosecution and judicial officers” for quick delivery of criminal justice.


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Printable version | May 23, 2022 8:09:19 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/Should-complete-criminal-trials-in-three-years-says-CJI/article60088253.ece