This article has been written by Sunayana Babar, pursuing a Certificate Course in Advanced Criminal Litigation & Trial Advocacy from LawSikho.


What is the Right to Speedy Trial? 

The Right to a Speedy Trial is the main component of a Just and fair trial. It is the Fundamental Right of the Accused to be tried expeditiously without any inordinate delays on part of the Prosecution. 

In the case of Katar Singh vs. the State of Punjab, the Right to a speedy trial was for the very first time recognised as an integral part of the Fundamental Right to life and personal liberty. 

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Need for speedy trials

 The Criminal Justice System in India works in a very leisurely manner. Right from the process of investigation till the day the Judgment is pronounced, a great deal of time, resources and human effort is involved in delivering justice. The average time a trial court takes in pronouncing decisions is 5-6 years and sometimes cases continue for a longer period. Amidst all these years, undoubtedly, it is the victim and the person Accused that suffers the most.     

The main objectives for the want of speedy trial, is to:

  • Prevent illegal incarceration, 
  • To ensure society’s faith and confidence in the Justice delivery system, and 
  • To dispose of the cases efficiently and speedily in a just and fair manner.

Constitutional mandate

The Right to a speedy trial is not expressly mentioned in any provision of the Indian Constitution but is embedded in Article 21 by way of judicial interpretation. The right to speedy proceedings flows from the right to have a reasonable, fair and just trial which furthermore, flows from Fundamental Right to Life and Personal Liberty.

Justice P. N. Bhagwati while delivering his judgment in the widely known case of Hussainara Khatoon vs. State of Bihar propounded that the State has an obligation to provide for the person accused, a speedy trial and such a constitutional obligation cannot be avoided by alleging financial or administrative inability. 

The aggrieved person shall invoke the Jurisdiction of either the High Court or the Supreme Court under Article 226 or Article 32 of the Constitution respectively if his Right to a speedy trial is being violated. Moreover, the Right to an expeditious trial is not only applicable to major offences that warrant the death penalty or life imprisonment but also to minor offences.

Prime causes that aid in the delay

Frequent adjournments 

It is pertinent to note that under Section 309 of the Criminal Procedure Code, in every trial and inquiry, proceedings starting from the examination of the witnesses are to be held expeditiously on a day-to-day basis until all the witnesses are examined. Any adjournment taken during such proceedings shall be subject to the reasons recorded in writing by the Court. 

It has been observed by the Courts on various occasions that the Defence counsels as well as the Prosecution indefinitely engage in adjournment tactics to slow down the proceedings that prolong the trial and lead to inordinate delays. Such callous tactics has often resulted in the Courts levying costs on the counsels as well as the litigants.    

Prolonged investigation

Along with speedy trials, speedy investigation is also the Fundamental right guaranteed to the person accused. Investigation is an integral part of the trial itself and commonly so, the investigating agencies stall proceedings to delay the trial. 

Moreover, on the advent of the Criminal Amendment Act, 2018 that set a time limit on investigation and trial proceedings in certain offences has undoubtedly, been poorly implemented. At times, investigating agencies have to deal with political pressure and cases are transferred from one agency to another which takes ample amount of time and effort in filing charge sheets and finding bonafide evidence that altogether, aid in the delay of the trial.   

Vacancy of judges in trial courts 

High vacancy in lower courts is one of the reasons why trials get delayed. As per the Indian Justice Report (IJR) of 2020, nearly 1 in 4 cases in subordinate courts have been pending for over 5 years. The 120th Law Commission’s Report had recommended a judge for every 20,000 people. However, the IJR 2020 states that there’s only one judge for over 50,000 people.      

Consequences on infringement of the right 

When the trial proceedings continue for a longer period, the accused person’s Fundamental Right to a speedy trial gets infringed and certain consequences like delay in justice, prejudice to the accused etc. emerge from such violation. A remedy to that effect like compensation for delay or getting charges quashed can be availed under Article 32 or under Article 226 before the Supreme Court and the High Court, respectively. 

General consequences (effects)

Delay of Justice 

The legal maxim “Justice delayed is justice denied”, speaks volumes. Delay in delivering justice has the same effect as denial of justice. Once a crime is committed or charges are levied against the accused, it is essential to conduct trials in a timely fashion. Derailing from the trial by permitting constant adjournments or transfer of judges hinders the proceedings and results in an innumerable time loss which in turn causes delay in delivering justice.

Abuse of judicial process 

The expression “Innocent until proven guilty” is the fundamental rule of our Criminal Jurisprudence. A person facing trial is presumed to be innocent until the prosecution exhibits evidence beyond any reasonable doubt that he’s guilty of the charges levied. Moreover, the person accused is entitled to the right to try speedily in a court of law and a violation of his right would welcome the abuse of process.

Expensive proceedings 

Trial Proceedings often run over a period of years which can get time consuming and pretty expensive. The volume of legal fees, court fees, remuneration on expert opinions, etc. add up to a large extent and can drain the accused of its resources. 

Prejudice to the accused 

Not only does a long trial add stress financially but also emotionally. It is the person accused that suffers an innumerable stress and anxiety throughout the stretch of his trial concerning his constant attendance in the court or police stations which in turn, affects his work and business. More often than not, an ongoing criminal case can harm the reputation and standing of the person in the society to an extent where he either has to resign from his job or he is cut off.  

Major Consequences (effects) 

Quashing of the charges 

One of the effects in delay of proceedings is Quashing of the charges by the Court. Various factors consisting of:

  • prima facie evidence, 
  • nature of the offence, 
  • facts and circumstances of the case,

are taken into consideration by the Courts while deciding whether there has been a delay and the charges against accused are liable to be quashed. 

In Srinivas Gopal v. Union Territory of Arunachal Pradesh, (Now State) [1988], the SC quashed proceedings on the grounds of delay in both investigation and trial proceedings. Investigation against the Appellant had begun in 1976 and was charge-sheeted a year later in 1977 and cognizance was taken by Magistrate in 1986. Taking into consideration the facts and circumstances, the Court decided it will suffice to quash proceedings.

NOTE: In major economic offences like scams, frauds etc., the Court resists from quashing any charges even though there has been ample amount of delay in proceedings because it considers an economic offence to be a grave offence and quashing them would not be in the interest of justice.

Quashing of the conviction 

When the accused has after a long duration of trial been convicted on the charges framed against him and he makes a plea before the court for infringement of his right, the Court can grant either of the two remedies available to the accused at that stage i.e. Quashing of the Conviction or Reduction in the sentence granted by the trial court. 

When the delay in the trial has been recorded by the Court, the conviction can be quashed by taking into consideration these factors:

  • Fact and circumstances of the case
  • Whether the Accused had been given an adequate opportunity to defend himself?
  • Whether Accused had been prejudiced in conduct of his defence?

Mere delay in the proceedings shall not warrant the quashing of the conviction. The Court must be satisfied that the accused had been prejudiced on account of such delay in the proceedings.

Reduction of sentence

The aggrieved party can also invoke the jurisdiction of the court at the post-conviction stage if it is pleaded that his Right to speedy trial has been violated.  The Court while deciding delay in the proceedings and after taking into consideration:

  • The nature of offence;
  • Facts and circumstances of the case;
  • Pre-Trial incarceration period, if any;
  • Sentence undergone after conviction; 

may reduce the sentence passed by the trial court on conviction.   

The SC in Madhu Mehta versus Union of India while holding inordinate delay in the proceedings as one of the factors and further commuted the death sentence of the accused to imprisonment for life.

Expeditious trial within fixed period 

When the charges levied and evidence procured against the person accused are such that even after prolonged delays, the trial has to be concluded for the purpose of securing justice, then the Court may direct the trial court and such other authorities to continue with the trial within the time specified by it. The duration of the delay does not stand a chance when the offence is of such a nature that solely, concluding the trial would be in the interest of justice. 

The Calcutta HC recently directed the subordinate court to expedite the trial of a Bangladeshi businessman who was in custody for over 557 days, more than half of the maximum punishment of the alleged offence he’s charged with.


The Judiciary has been prompt to award compensation to the person aggrieved by the delay of proceedings. The Madras HC recently directed the Prosecution (NCB) to pay compensation of Rs. 1 Lakh to the accused for infringing his Right to Speedy trial. 

The State was directed to pay a compensation of Rs. 30,000 to the Applicant by the Madhya Pradesh HC for failing to produce the police witnesses before the trial court that resulted in inordinate delay of the proceedings.

Directions to State and Appropriate Authorities 

The SC in Hussainara Khatoon vs. State of Bihar  and again in Khadra Paharia v. State of Bihar re-affirmed that: The Court acting on its constitutional obligation and for the purpose of enforcing the rights of the accused has the power to give directions to the State as well as the appropriate authorities for securing the Right to speedy trial to the accused.   


In today’s era, when media trials and personal judgment takes place of judicial adjudication, crimes need to be adjudged more efficiently and expeditiously, keeping in mind the peoples’ growing consciousness regarding social issues. However, it does not mean that trials should be conducted in a hasty manner so as to cause hardship and injustice to the accused. 

The Fast Track Courts were established with the sole purpose of speedily disposing of cases as soon as possible. However, its implementation seems to be an unsuccessful attempt. The Parliament or the Judiciary has not yet provided with any fast and hard rule or any upper time limit for concluding trials. However, State governments of Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra have introduced ‘Disha Bill’ and ‘Shakti Bill’ into their respective State assemblies, for trying certain offences speedily. These bills may act as a revolutionary step towards concluding trials speedily. 

In addition to these bills, the Legislators along with the Judiciary ought to establish an appropriate mechanism or rules to confirm its smooth and effective implementation and ensure that such Acts and Rules are adhered to.

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