SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
DHANANJAY MAHAPATRA IN THE TIMES OF INDIA
NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court may have declared in numerous judgments that speedy trial was intrinsic to right to life of an accused, but on Wednesday the court said it was apprehensive about fixing a time limit for completion of a criminal trial as it could be misused by intelligent criminals.
This comment came from a bench of Justices H L Dattu and C K Prasad during the hearing on a petition by advocate Ranjan Dwivedi, who has sought quashing of the trial proceedings against him in the L N Mishra murder case on the ground of inordinate delay saying the 37-year-long trial has blighted him personally, physically and socially.
Senior advocate T R Andhyarujina said Dwivedi was 27-year-old when the bomb blast at Samastipur railway station killed Mishra on January 2, 1975. The trial has dragged on for no fault of his, and now the accused is a frail 64-year-old. He said there was a grave danger of immense prejudice during the trial of Dwivedi as 31 of 39 defence witnesses cited by him to prove his innocence have died. As many as 22 judges have handled the trial at various stages.
“It is a unique case. The apex court has declared that right to speedy trial was a requirement under Article 21 guaranteeing right to life. But, the trial has dragged on for 37 years. In 1992, the Supreme Court had directed day-to-day trial in this case for a speedy conclusion. Two decades later, we are no where near the end,” Andhyarujina said.
“Whether the accused would get convicted or acquitted is immaterial. The question important here is whether any judicial system would tolerate such inordinate delay? Should the Supreme Court allow it to continue any more,” he added.
The bench said there was no denying that delay had been frequent in the judicial system in India. “Delay will continue to happen given the system we have. Delay definitely affects the trial but can the Supreme Court fix a time limit for completion of a criminal trial. The SC had earlier in a judgment specifically struck down fixation of a time limit for completion of trial,” it said.
“It is a unique case. But if we quash the proceedings, we may be sending a wrong signal, which may be used by an intelligent accused at a later date. We do not want this to happen because of our order,” the bench said.
The court was apprehensive that if a time limit was fixed on the trial, then an unscrupulous accused could deliberately delay the trial by challenging every order against him in higher courts and thus designed delay the trial to seek its quashing after a decade or so.
The bench said since the trial has reached the fag end after dragging for nearly four decades, it could ask the trial court to complete it in the next three months by holding proceedings on a day-to-day basis refusing adjournment on any ground to the accused and prosecution. It asked Andhyarujina and additional solicitor general Harin Raval to give their views to expeditious completion of the 37-year-long trial by Thursday.
Role of Ananda Marg was suspected in the case, and several people were arrested. The chargesheet was filed against several people, including Dwivedi. The trial was transferred to Delhi by the Supreme Court in December, 1979, after the attorney general alleged that Bihar government was interfering with the trial. Charges were framed against the accused in 1981. Dwivedi was granted bail in 1978.