Report No. 142
2.3. Supreme Court takes cognizance of the matter.-
The facts stated in the immediately preceding paragraph came to the notice of the Supreme Court in a number of cases, most important among which is that of Hussainara Khatoon v. State of Bihar AIR 1979 SC 1360, dealing with the above case originating from the State of Bihar. The Supreme Court passed a number of Orders in this connection commencing from AIR 1979 SC 1360.
2.4. It was brought to the notice of the Supreme Court that an alarmingly large number of men and women-children including-are behind prison bars for years awaiting trails in courts of law. It was observed by the Supreme Court that:1
"the offences with which some of them are charged are trivial, which, even if proved, would not warrant punishment for more than a few months, perhaps for a year or two, and yet these unfortunate forgotten specimen of humanity are in jail, deprived of their freedom for periods ranging from three to ten years without even as much as their trial having commenced".
1. AIR 1979 SC 1360 (1361), para. 1.
2.5. The Supreme Court noticed that several under-trial prisoners have been in jails for as many as five, seven or nine years and a few of them even more than ten years without their trial having begun. The Supreme Court lamented:1
"What faith can these lost souls have in the judicial system which denies them a bare trial for so many years and keeps them behind bars, not because they are guilty, but because they are too poor to afford bail and the courts have no time to try them. It is a travesty of justice that many poor accused, little Indians, are forced into long cellular servitude for little offences because the bail procedure is beyond their meagre means and trials don't commence and, even if they do, they never conclude."
The Supreme Court had further found:2
"There is also one other infirmity of the legal and judicial system which is responsible for this gross denial of justice to the under-trial prisoners and that is the notorious delay in disposal of cases. It is a sad reflection on the legal and judicial system that the trial of an accused should not even commence for a long number of years. Even a delay of one year in the commencement of the trial is bad enough; how much worse could it be when the delay is as long as 3 or 5 or 7 or even 10 years. Speedy trial is of the essence of criminal justice and there can be no doubt that delay in trial by itself constitutes denial of justice."
1. AIR 1979 SC 1360 (1361), para. 2.
2. AIR 1979 SC 1360 (1364), para. 5.
2.6. The Commission noticed that over the years the situation has not improved. Long delays continue to occur in the disposal of trials and appeals. In the state of affairs as now existing it is extremely difficult to expedite the process of criminal trials in the subordinate courts and the disposal of appeals in the appellate courts. Extent and duration of cross examination cannot be curtailed without creating other problems.
Nor can arguments be curtailed for the same reason. There is, therefore, little scope for streamlining the system to achieve more expeditious disposal. Besides, the Commission has reason to believe that the increase in the number of courts and the Judges would not necessarily result in eliminating the delays in the disposal of trials and appeals mitigating the hardships suffered by the under-trial prisoners.
In spite of the stern warning administered by the Supreme Court bail procedures continue to be as unsatisfactory as they were. It is not reported that there is any improvement in the duration of the time spent by the under-trial prisoners in jails awaiting their trials to commence. The Commission feels_ that perhaps the conditions have further deteriorated calling for immediate reform in the matter.