Don't delay justice

It is just as well that while one bench of theSupreme Court is trying to make the CBI more independent in probing politically sensitive cases, another bench has flagged the adjournment syndrome bedevilling the general run of criminal cases. The provocation was a bride-burning case from Punjab, where the trial court took over two years to examine witnesses. Such delays are endemic across the country and are primarily responsible for the pendency of cases being as high as 2.68 crore. 

Not for nothing did the Supreme Court bemoan that "it has become a common practice and regular occurrence that the trial courts flout the legislative command with impunity". This stricture needs to be taken seriously not just by trial courts but also by policymakers. If they are really concerned about the adage that justicedelayed is justice denied, policymakers in the executive and judiciary cannot pass the buck to trial courts. For, trial courts cannot have any realistic chance of complying with the legislative command of delivering justice expeditiously unless there is a judicious allocation of resources. 

Take the skew in the resources that came to light through the Nirbhaya episode, in the trial courts servicing the capital of the country. In December 2012, Delhi had as many as 26 special courts for corruption cases while there was none to try more heinous offences such as murder and rape. It took the horrific gang rape for policymakers to redress the imbalance. Such reforms need to be carried out throughout India. Besides rationalisation of existing resources, there is clearly a need to fill up vacancies and create more courts and provide better facilities and work culture for judges. 

The theory and practice of law are so divorced from each other that what was merely a reaffirmation of the law by the apex court might have been mistaken for an instance of judicial activism. Section 309 of the Criminal Procedure Code prescribes that once the examination of witnesses begins, the trial proceedings "shall be continued from day to day". The same provision also forbids adjournment beyond the following day unless the trial court finds it "necessary for reasons to be recorded". The norm of adjournments has to be turned into an exception, which can be resorted to only for compelling reasons.

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