Today's Paper

Supreme Court talks tough: ‘Don’t adjourn rape cases at the drop of a hat’

Within a few days of the gruesome December 16 assault in the Capital, the Supreme Court has directed all Sessions courts in the country to conduct rape trials daily and complete the process in two months from the date of commencement of examination of witnesses.

“In particular, when examination of witnesses has begun, it shall be continued from day to day until all witnesses in attendance have been examined, unless the court finds adjournment beyond the following day necessary for reasons to be recorded,” said a Bench of Justices Swatanter Kumar (who has since assumed charge as Chairperson of the National Green Tribunal) and Ibrahim Kalifulla.

The Bench, referring to regular adjournments being sought, said: “We are distressed to note that it is almost a common practice and regular occurrence that trial courts flout the said command with impunity. Even when witnesses are present, cases are adjourned on far less serious reasons or even on flippant grounds.”

Adjournments were granted for the asking, quite often to suit the convenience of the advocate, the Bench said. “We make it clear that the legislature has frowned upon granting adjournments on that ground. At any rate, inconvenience of an advocate is not a ‘special reason’ for bypassing the mandate of Section 309 of the Cr.PC [power to court to adjourn proceedings].”

The Bench directed all High Courts to issue circulars to subordinate courts to strictly adhere to the prescribed procedure to ensure speedy trial and also rule out any manoeuvring taking place by granting an undue, long adjournment for the mere asking. “When witnesses of a party are present, the court should make every possible endeavour to record their evidence and they should not be called back again. Work fixation of the court should be so arranged as not to direct the presence of witnesses whose evidence cannot be recorded. Similarly, cross-examination should be complete immediately after the examination-in-chief and, if need be, within a short time thereafter. No long adjournment should be allowed.”

The Bench said: “We hope and trust that the High Courts would take serious note of the directions issued in the decisions reported in the Rajdeo Sharma case, which has been extensively quoted and reiterated in the subsequent decision of this court reported in the Shambhu Nath case, and comply with the directions at least in the future years. In this respect, the High Courts will also be well advised to use their machinery in the respective State Judicial Academy to achieve the desired result.

Don’t blame tools

The Bench said: “It is no justification to glide on any alibi by blaming the infrastructure for skirting the legislative mandates embalmed in Section 309 of the Code. A judicious judicial officer who is committed to his work could manage with the existing infrastructure for complying with the legislative mandates. The precept in the old homily that a lazy workman always blames his tools is the only answer to those indolent judicial officers who find fault with the defects in the system and the imperfections of the existing infrastructure for their tardiness in coping with such directions.”

The Bench was dismissing an appeal filed by Akil alias Javed and Murslim, who were awarded life imprisonment in a case of robbery and causing the death of Salvinder. The appeal was directed against a Delhi High Court judgment, which confirmed the trial court order.

It is almost a common practice that trial courts flout command with impunity

Advocate’s inconvenience is no ‘special reason’ for bypassing mandate of Section 309 Cr.PC