Jayalalithaa wealth case Tamil Nadu

Fixing a time limit for criminal cases

Can a time limit be fixed for completing trial in criminal cases in the context of long delays in disposal? The question has evoked a mixed reaction among lawyers.

While one opinion is that there is a need for a speedy trial, which is a fundamental right of the accused, and also in the interest of victims; another is that the accused should be given all opportunity to prove his innocence and the cases should not be rushed through. There is yet another view that it is impossible to lay down a deadline for conclusion of criminal proceedings though higher courts at times issue time limits in various cases when aggrieved parties approach them. Even the law says that cases should be disposed of as expeditiously as possible.

The question of fixing a time limit for completing trial was posed to the Supreme Court several times. It had emphasised that the right to speedy trial was a fundamental right of the accused, but it had not fixed any time frame, points out M. Radhakrishnan, an advocate. Several problems come in the way of quick disposal and they include absence of adequate number of judges in trial courts and no timely appoint of public prosecutors proportionate to the cases pending. Serving of summons is done by the police and they could not effectively do it. Frequent and long adjournments, leave of absence by presiding officers and boycott of courts by advocates are the other reasons, he explains.

It is the people’s expectation that for the greater social good, criminal cases particularly those relating to grave crimes are concluded within a reasonable time and the guilty are punished. Delay in concluding criminal cases has adversely affected society and the damage is immeasurable. There has been an irretrievable fear of law and faith in the criminal justice delivery system, says S. Prabakaran, an advocate and a Member of the Bar Council of India.

However, advocates point out that a staggering pendency of criminal cases before courts may, besides causing frustration and resentment, lead to loss of people’s faith in the criminal justice system. While pointing out that a speedy trial is essential, the proceedings should not be rushed through. In a recent case, the High Court frowned upon a sessions court for completing trial in a murder case in 10 days. It went to the extent of observing that the trial judge had re-written criminal jurisprudence.

“It is impossible to fix a time limit even for Fast Track Courts due to various reasons,” says a jurist. This is mainly because adequate opportunity should be given to the parties to put forth their contentions and produce evidence. The court should ensure that the laws have been strictly adhered to. At the most, it could be ordered that when once the trial begins it should go on a day-to-day basis. Frequent adjournments should be avoided. Postponement of hearing should not go beyond four or five days at a time so that a case comes up for hearing at short intervals.

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Printable version | Aug 6, 2022 11:24:41 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/Fixing-a-time-limit-for-criminal-cases/article60344801.ece