Allahabad HC becomes ‘pilot project’ for case backlog study

The Supreme Court has asked itself why numerous orders over the decades suggesting “action plans” to combat staggering backlog of cases in High Courts and trial courts have literally produced no answers and hardly any results.

Justice Jasti Chelameswar ruminated on how the “phenomenon of mounting pendency and discomfiting delay in disposal of cases” continue at the cost of gross human rights violations to undertrials, convicts — both who languish behind the walls of prisons, at times spend the entirety of their prison sentence behind bars while their appeals or bail applications stagnate for decades without a hearing — and victims of crime.

Bail plea

The Supreme Court’s third seniormost judge had found himself hearing a plea for bail by a convict in a murder case. Defence lawyer Dushyant Parashar apprised Justice Chelameswar that his client’s appeal against his conviction was pending in the Allahabad HC for over a decade without a hearing. Mr. Parashar told the Supreme Court that, with the current backlog at the Allahabad HC, his client entertains no hope of a hearing of his appeal.

Ordering the HC to complete the hearing of the appeal against conviction in four months, Justice Chelameswar, in a seven-page order, wondered about the “umpteen occasions” in which the Supreme Court has suggested proposals and framed guidelines to end pendency in courts.

How the judiciary has been, in a sense, inadvertently responsible for violation of the fundamental right to speedy trial and disposal of criminal appeals under Article 21 of the Constitution.

Novel move

So, in a novel move, the Supreme Court decided to put the Allahabad HC under the microscope as a “pilot project” to investigate how High Courts deal with pendency. The SC said this was a “target-specific” exercise to study how criminal appeals face years of delay as appellants face “inhuman compulsions” inside jails.

Justice Chelameswar called for real-time statistics from the Allahabad HC and roped in senior advocates Shyam Divan and C.U. Singh to assist the Supreme Court.

“We are of the view that it is imperative for this court to initiate a target specific exercise, and for the purpose obtain and analyse the relevant data at the first instance with regard to the pendency of the criminal appeals before the Allahabad High Court,” Justice Chelameswar ordered.

Particulars sought

The Bench directed the HC Registrar to hand over particulars of the criminal appeals, category-wise and year-wise, for the study in four weeks.

It sought the High Court to produce details of the institution and disposal statistics of last 10 years, average disposal time of the appeals, identified causes for the delay, steps already taken and in contemplation for tackling and accelerating disposals, mechanism in place to oversee the process and progress recorded.

The Supreme Court said the selection of the Allahabad High Court, one of the oldest High Courts in the country, should not be construed as a comment on its functioning or any deficiency thereof.