This article is written by Anubhuti Singh at Symbiosis Law School, Noida. It covers the various nuances of the right of fair and speedy trial and some suggestions to improvise so that there is no delay.
Table of Contents
A fair trial is one that is open to the public and is presided over by an impartial judge who treats all parties equally. The right to a fair trial is a fundamental protection of human rights and the rule of law that aims to ensure the administration of justice. A fair trial comprises fair and proper opportunities to show innocence as provided by law. Before the courts and tribunals, everyone is treated equally. Everyone has the right to a fair and public hearing before a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal established by law in the resolution of any criminal charge against him or of his rights and obligations in a legal proceeding. The right to a timely trial is not specifically addressed in the Indian Constitution, but it is incorporated into Article 21 through judicial interpretation. The right to a rapid trial stems from the right to a reasonable, fair, and just trial, which stems from the fundamental right to life and personal liberty.
The need for fair and speedy trial
The major goal of the Right to a Speedy Trial is to instil justice in society. Human rights are necessary because of human life. It is vital in a civilised society organised with the law and a system to provide a reasonably dignified existence for every citizen. As a result, every right is a human right since it allows a person to live as a human being. The very basic aim for which every governmental apparatus establishes the court system is to provide justice to victims of crimes. In the Maneka Gandhi case (1978), Justice Bhagwati stated, “The expression ‘personal liberty’ in Article 21 is of the broadest amplitude and it covers a variety of rights that go to constitute a man’s personal liberty, some of which have been elevated to the status of distinct fundamental rights and given additional protection under Article 19.” The Supreme Court held in Sheela Barsa v. Union Of India (1986), that if an accused is not tried quickly and his case is pending before the Magistrate or Sessions Court for an unreasonable amount of time, his fundamental right to a speedy trial will be violated unless there is some interim order issued by the superior court or a deliberate delay on the part of the prosecutor. As a result of such a delay, the prosecution could be thrown out. The Indian Constitution places a high expectation on the judicial system to provide a legal mechanism to deal with issues concerning the administration of justice. The Directive Principles of State Policy enshrined in Articles 38(1), 39, and 39-A of the Indian Constitution, as well as India’s international legal commitments, to ensure the prompt delivery of justice. There is no extant law that specifies a timeframe for the conclusion of the trial, and if one is included in a statute, it is just “indicative” rather than “mandatory.” The Supreme Court has stated in several decisions that the right to a quick trial is guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. The establishment of an independent judicial system, as well as the inclusion of fundamental rights and directive principles of state policies, demonstrates our Constitution’s authors’ commitment to making the judicial system an effective organ of state machinery on which people can rely with trust and hope for justice. The right to a swift trial is originally recognised in the Magna Carta, a historic instrument of English law.
Loopholes in the Indian legal system
The first and most serious issue is the delay in case disposition. Due to a large number of pending cases, it takes years for the cases to be resolved, which would ordinarily take a few months. Arrears generate delays, and delays imply that the average man does not have access to justice in its genuine sense. The judge-to-population ratio — Currently, taking into account the country’s population and the number of cases pending, the number of judges available is quite low. The justice system becomes inefficient as a result of this. Judiciary is not viewed favourably by young aspiring lawyers since judges are underpaid, and young lawyers see litigation as a more gratifying and rewarding job.
The investigation agencies, such as the police, also play a part in the delay of cases. Many times, investigation agencies take their time filing charge sheets in court, causing a delay. The absence of some or all of the accused, as well as the failure to produce undertrial detainees at the time of charging and during the trial, all add to the delay. The police are not making sincere efforts to apprehend and bring the fugitive accused to justice. Warrant execution has become a low priority for the police, who have their motives, which may or may not be real. Delays in witness examination lead to a slew of irrational outcomes, and this ailment is blamed on a variety of factors, including excessive delays in case trials. The lower courts’ infrastructure is extremely unsatisfactory. Though the Supreme Court and High Courts have adequate infrastructure, this is not the case for other courts. Because the courts lack convenient buildings and physical facilities, it takes longer to resolve a case. A good library, necessary furniture, adequate staff, and adequate space is required for qualitative justice, and most of these facilities are not available in lower courts.
The consequences of delay of a trial
Allowing continuous adjournments or the movement of judges impedes the processes and results in endless time losses, which causes delays in delivering justice. A defendant is deemed innocent unless the prosecution proves beyond a reasonable doubt that he is guilty of the charges levelled against him. Furthermore, the accused has the right to a speedy trial in a court of law and a violation of that right would encourage abuse of process. Trial proceedings sometimes last years, which may be both time consuming and costly. The amount of legal fees, court expenses, pay for expert views, and so on adds up quickly and might deplete the accused’s resources. A long trial not only adds a financial burden, but it also adds an emotional burden. Throughout the trial, the accused experiences a great deal of stress and worry as a result of his regular attendance in court or police stations, which has a negative impact on his work and business. An ongoing criminal case, more frequently than not, can impair a person’s reputation and position in society to the point where he is forced to quit his employment or is cut off.
Remedies available in case of delay in proceedings
Article 21 of the Constitution, which guarantees the Right to Life and Personal Liberty, includes the right to a prompt trial as a basic right. When a person’s fundamental rights are violated, he or she can file a complaint in the Supreme Court under Article 32 or the High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution. In the case P. Ramachandra Rao v. the State of Karnataka (2002), the Court established some guidelines and declared that Criminal Courts must use the authorities given by Sections 309, 311, and 258 of the Code of Criminal Procedure to carry out the right to a speedy trial. The High Court’s jurisdiction under Section 482 of the Criminal Procedure Code and Articles 226 and 227 of the Constitution might be used to seek appropriate remedy and directives. We can see that the right to a quick trial has been emphasised from time to time as a fundamental right under Article 21 to reconcile justice and fairness with many other compelling and essential interests. The Court may create the terms of a possible settlement and submit the matter to arbitration, conciliation, mediation, or judicial settlement if it appears to the court that there are aspects that may be acceptable to the parties. The notion of an online ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) is gaining popularity these days, but the issue is a lack of IT understanding among the general public, as well as a need for legal and ADR understanding, technological concerns, legal sanctity of proceedings, industry support, and so on. However, there are numerous flaws in the government’s policies.
Possible solutions and hope for a brighter future
The time it takes to resolve a case measures the capacity and efficiency of a judicial system. A case is judged and disposed of fast in an efficient judicial system. Though this is not an easy task, it is important to attain good social fairness. Time schedules should be implemented so that there is effective time management, which leads to successful judicial system management. Judges should be given suitable training and assignments regularly to improve their drafting, listening, and writing skills, as well as the ability to make correct and timely decisions. Furthermore, the ratio of judges to the population should be increased, which will aid in the quick resolution of cases. Arbitration should be used wherever possible, and in small and minor situations, arbitration should be made mandatory. It will save the courts valuable time. Small and trivial cases should be dealt with by Nyaya Panchayats. Nonetheless.
Lok Adalats were established to expedite the resolution of matters at the lower levels. The adjournment system should be changed in such a way that it is limited, and punishment should be levied on anyone who makes an application for an adjournment on flimsy grounds. Cases must be assigned to judges based on their areas of expertise. This means that criminal cases should be tried by a Judge who has extensive experience and knowledge of criminal law. At all stages of the process, including investigation, inquiry, trial, appeal, revision, and retry, the right to a fast trial is available. In different decisions, the Supreme Court has emphasised that a person can seek relief from the Supreme Court under Article 32 and the High Court under Article 226 to enforce the right to a quick trial. The Court, on the other hand, has often declined to set a deadline for a trial’s completion. The trial has been delayed for a variety of reasons. Even if the right to a speedy trial is a fundamental right, its effective implementation requires empirical research and detailed legislation.
The judiciary is an essential component of our democracy, and all of its ramifications must be included in the judicial process. Once we accept the idea that the judicial system plays a critical role in ensuring that neither licence nor absolutism becomes dominant in a democratic society, the court’s tough tasks become starkly apparent. A judicial system that is only concerned with evidence and facts should not be concerned with taming the souls of the plaintiff and defendant with time, but rather with providing justice as quickly as possible; this delay/denial of justice leads to an increase in “out of court settlements,” which are cheaper and faster, resulting in a loss of trust in our judicial system. Though there are no particular provisions for a speedy trial, the Supreme Court has concluded that by judicial interpretation, Article 21 of the Constitution guarantees the right to the accused. It is in the best interests of everyone involved if the issue is resolved quickly and justice is served. “Justice delayed is justice denied,” is a legal maxim that states that if legal redress is available for a party that has experienced some harm but is not provided in a timely manner, it is functionally the same as having no redress at all.
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