Ranchi, Aug. 30: Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan today took a dig at high court as well as district court judges for delivering wrong verdicts because of their ignorance of criminal justice laws.
Balakrishnan warned that several people wanted to delay the conclusion of criminal cases. “(But) Judges are supposed to prevent the abuse of law by those who want to delay the delivery of judgment,” he added, alluding to the judiciary’s concern at the high number of pending cases.
The Chief Justice was delivering a valedictory address at the conclusion of the first east zone regional judicial conference aimed at equipping senior judicial officers, drawn from seven states — Jharkhand, Bengal, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Assam, Sikkim and Bihar — to deliver speedy and quality justice.
The three-day programme was organised by National Judicial Academy (NJA), Bhopal, in association with Jharkhand High Court and State Judicial Academy.
Jharkhand High Court Chief Justice Gyan Sudha Misra, Patna High Court Chief Justice P.K. Mishra, State Judicial Academy in-charge Justice M.Y. Eqbal, NJA director G. Mohan Gopal were present among others.
Balakrishnan pointed out that Section 498 (A) (anti-dowry law) under CrPC was one of the most abused laws.
“Judges are simply issuing summons and even warrants without properly verifying who are the accused. I have come across such cases in which the accused, sitting in Australia and other countries, are made accused when the case is lodged for the alleged offence of dowry,” he added.
Balakrishnan added that the criminal procedure code was amended for the police to follow certain procedures before arrests. “We have come across cases in which even high court judges are ignorant of the legal value of statements recorded before the police under Section 161 of the Evidence Act for delivering judgments,” he said.
Calling upon lower court judges to be socially sensitive, he asked them to have control over trial proceedings in order to deliver judgments easily. He also asked them to examine eyewitnesses first before examining other witnesses produced by the defence.
“Trial and defence lawyers should not terrorise witnesses. A judge should be alert and caring” he maintained.
Misra said the deteriorating law and order situation was a heavy burden on the criminal justice system.
“It was worrying that the state functionaries were not invoking the provisions of the National Security Act to keep hardened criminals in jail,” she added.
Stressing on the need for quality justice, Misra said she was receiving complaints that the fast-track court has turned into a “farce track court”. Judicial officers, she said, had to wipe out fear that fast-track courts would only convict a person.
“They have to strike a balance between expectation of the victims’ of crime and the accused,” she maintained.
Former Supreme Court judge S.B. Sinha pointed out that 70 per cent of all the pending criminal cases were petty offences. “Sociological studies suggest that it is the poor who suffer the most because of delay in the delivery of judgments,” he added.
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Posted: Thursday , Sep 03, 2009 at 0015 hrs
* Mumtaz Khan was arrested in 2001 under the Wildlife Protection Act for possessing rare birds. Though released on bail soon, court dates kept him busy till recently.
* Ramesh was booked in 2001 under various sections of the Indian Penal Code for rash and negligent driving, and causing injuries to the complainant. Eight years of legal wrangling later, he is a free man.
* An FIR for obstructing and assaulting a public servant on duty was lodged against Riaz Beg in 2000 based on a complaint by a policeman. Now, he has finally got off the hook.
What worked for all three men was “plea bargaining” — their lawyers tactfully “bargaining” with the prosecutor and the complainant.
A relatively new mechanism to clear the huge backlog of cases, “plea bargaining” as a concept was introduced in the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) in July 2006. The Delhi judiciary is using it now to clear cases with chances of a quick and mutually satisfactory settlement.
And the success of this initiative, recently started by the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate (CMM) at Tis Hazari Courts, is apparent: Almost 30 cases, lingering for several years, were disposed of by this procedure in just the past one month.
Most, in fact, were settled in a single hearing.
WHAT is plea bargaining?
It is an exercise to arrive at an agreement in a criminal case in which the prosecutor and the accused assemble to settle a case. While the accused agrees to plead guilty, or not to contest the charges, the prosecution concedes leniency in punishment in exchange to the plea.
The prosecution may agree to charge the accused with a crime of lesser degree by dismissing some charges, or can promise leniency in punishment against the original charges.
WHO can plead guilty?
As per the CrPC, an accused being tried under an offence that does not entail a maximum punishment of more than seven years imprisonment can move an application before the trial court expressing desire to plead guilty.
Plea bargaining, though, is not available to certain kinds of offences. These include offences against woman, children below 14, and against any juvenile or child as defined under Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000. An accused also cannot seek leniency if punished for same offence in a different case earlier.
HOW it works
The accused must move an application in writing before the trial judge with a brief description of the case and supported by an affidavit swearing it was a voluntary application. On the date of hearing, the judge examines the accused alone — this in-camera proceeding is mandatory to ensure the application is voluntary and genuine.
The court then proceeds to a settlement, giving time to the prosecution and the accused to work out a “mutually satisfactory disposition”. After settlement is mutually agreed upon, the court has to hear both parties and decide on either a reduced sentence, entitlement of release on probation of good conduct, or after admonition.
WHY it is win-win for all
The biggest benefit plea bargaining is it helps reduce case load for courts as well as prosecutors. It also helps reform the offenders by accepting responsibility for their actions and eliminates an expensive, time-consuming trial.
HOW Delhi courts deal with plea bargaining
By provisions of CrPC, magisterial courts have been empowered to deal with plea bargaining. Under the High Court’s guidance, the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate has developed a plan to earmark courts in all five district court complexes to specifically deal with plea bargaining applications.
The pilot project started on July 27 at Tis Hazari, where a special court sits from 3 pm to 5 pm to hear such pleas. The practical directions note issued by the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate says in order to ensure quick disposal, a judge should make “all possible efforts to complete the entire process in one sitting, and in any event within a period of one month”.
WHO says WHAT
VIKAS SINGH, former Additional Solicitor General and Supreme Court lawyer, appreciated the move and said it would primarily help victims agonised by long trial and no monetary relief. “Even if an accused gets convicted, a victim cannot see it as justice being done, for even after a long-drawn trial, there is nothing in store for him.”
PIYUSH PRABHAKAR, advocate who represented one of the accused in a case of successful plea bargaining: “The move holds promise for speedy decision of trivial matters awaiting court’s final word. If implemented successfully in coordination with the legal fraternity, many litigants can get instant reprieve.”
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