Speedy trial is a constitutional guarantee: Supreme Court

October 03, 2006 12:00 am | Updated March 22, 2012 10:49 am IST

Legal Correspondent

Directs Centre and all State Governments to prevent unreasonable delay in disposal of criminal cases

No procedure which does not ensure reasonably quick trial can be fairNot a single witness examined in 26 years

New Delhi: Observing that speedy trial is a fundamental right of an accused, the Supreme Court has directed the Centre and all State Governments to prevent unreasonable delay in disposal of criminal cases.

In order to make the administration of criminal justice effective, vibrant and meaningful, the Union of India, the State Governments and all authorities must take necessary steps immediately so that the constitutional right of the accused to speedy trial does not remain only on paper, said a Bench consisting of Justices S.B. Sinha and Dalveer Bhandari.

Duty of court

"While it is incumbent on the court to see that no guilty person escapes, it is still more its duty to see that justice is not delayed and accused persons are not indefinitely harassed," the Bench said quashing the proceedings initiated by the State Bank of India in 1980 against Motilal Saraf, an officer, under the Jammu and Kashmir Prevention of Corruption Act for receiving Rs. 700 as illegal gratification.

"The constitutional guarantee of speedy trial is an important safeguard to prevent undue and oppressive incarceration prior to trial; to minimise anxiety and concern accompanying public accusation and to limit the possibilities that long delays will impair the ability of an accused to defend himself."

Bounden duty

The Bench said: "It is the bounden duty of the court and the prosecution to prevent unreasonable delay."

Writing the judgment, Justice Bhandari said the apex court in a number of cases reiterated that speedy trial was one of the facets of the fundamental right to life and liberty enshrined in Article 21 and the law must ensure reasonable, just and fair procedure. "No procedure which does not ensure a reasonably quick trial can be regarded as reasonable, fair or just and it would fall foul of Article 21."

The Bench said: "The right to speedy trial begins with the actual restraint imposed by arrest and consequent incarceration and continues at all stages, namely, the stage of investigation, inquiry, trial, appeal and revision so that any possible prejudice that may result from impermissible and avoidable delay from the time of the commission of the offence till it consummates into a finality can be averted."

In the instant case, not a single witness had been examined by the prosecution in the last 26 years without there being any lapse on the part of the appellant officer. Permitting the state to continue with the prosecution and trial any further would be a total abuse of the process of law, the Bench said.

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