After taking charge as the Chief Justice of the Madhya Pradesh High Court in 2021, Justice Ravi Malimath has been emphasizing on the expeditious disposal of old and pending cases. Recently, the Madhya Pradesh High Court launched a special drive to dispose of 25 oldest cases upto 23.03.2023 on a quarterly basis to reduce the pendency in courts. Moreover, the cases that are not disposed of are to be carried over to the next quarter for disposal.
Taking forward the drive to dispose of old cases speedily, the Division Bench of the MP High Court consisting of Justices Ravi Malimath and Vijay Kumar Shukla disposed of a writ petition that was instituted in 1996. Although, this is a great step towards speedy disposal, however, this order has its own repercussions which were pointed out by the State Bar Association as well as various District Bar Associations across the State.
The authors analyze the scheme launched in October 2021 and the reasons for the strikes by the Bar Associations across MP. The article further delves into the conundrum between speedy and fair trials and the ways both can be balanced.
A lot of lawyers went on strike seeking withdrawal of the notification by the Hon’ble High Court being concerned about the aspect of fair trial. The lawyers contend that every person wants disposal as early as possible, however, in the guise of achieving speedy disposal, the object of delivering fair justice suffers.
Recently, Justice Rastogi remarked that “the system has been such that, everybody wants disposal, disposal everyday, morning, evening, disposal goes on”, adding that “you run behind disposal, then justice has to sacrifice.”
Due to the various issues faced by the members of the Bar Association and to figure out appropriate solutions, a meeting was convened by the Chief Justice of the MP High Court with the Chairman and members of the Bar Council on 03.03.2023.
Subsequently, on 20.03.2023, the Chairman of the State Bar Council of Madhya Pradesh, addressed a letter to the Hon’ble Chief Justice of the MP High Court to withdraw the said scheme by 22.03.2023. The letter further stated that if the scheme is not withdrawn by the given date then the advocates of the State of Madhya Pradesh will protest and abstain from judicial work with effect from 23.03.2023.
Therefore, on 24.03.2023, the Chief Justice of MP High Court initiated a suo-motto public interest litigation against the Chairman of the State Bar Council of MP for asking the entire lawyer community of Madhya Pradesh to go on strike.
Speedy Trial and Fair Trial
Both Speedy and Fair trials are important concepts of the Criminal Justice System. However, the practical applicability of these concepts is challenging. If the courts go for speedy trials, then fair trial is taken for a toss and vice versa.
There is a common proverb that ‘justice delayed is justice denied’. However, this should not undermine ensuring ‘justice’ for the litigants as ‘justice hurried is justice buried’. The right to speedy trial is one of the most widely recognized Human Rights. Article 21 of the Constitution also provides for the right to speedy trial through judicial interpretation.
In Hussainara Khatoon v. Home Secretary, it was observed that although the Constitution does not specifically provide for the right to speedy trial but it is implicit from the broad interpretation of Article 21.
Justice Bhagwati in this context observed that:
“[O]bviously procedure prescribed by law for depriving a person of his liberty cannot be reasonably fair or just unless that procedure ensures a speedy trial for determination of the guilt of such person. No procedure which does not ensure a reasonably quick trial can be regarded as reasonable, fair or just and it would fall foul of Article 21.”
Subsequently, the Supreme Court of India in a number of cases observed that the right to expeditious trials and investigations is a part of personal liberty. In one of the significant judgments in A.R. Antulay v. R.S. Nayak, it was observed that the right to speedy trial flowing from Article 21 is available to the accused at all stages.
The concept of fair trial is very well explained by the famous proverb “justice should not only be done but it should be manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done.” So, a trial is fair when the due process which is established by the law is followed. A lot of statutes and conventions provide for the accused’s right to a fair trial. Moreover, fairness in a criminal trial is one of the fundamental principles of the criminal justice system.
A lot of International Conventions and covenants provide for the right to a fair trial. Article 14(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Article 6(1) of The European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) and Article 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides for the right to a fair hearing.
Moreover, Articles 14(3)(b) of the ICCPR and Article 6(3)(b) of the ECHR provides for the right to be provided with adequate time and facilities to prepare the defence and to communicate with the counsel of the defendant’s choice. Here facilities include access to documents, information and other necessary files.
The right to fair trial also includes the defendant’s right to examine a witness and to obtain the attendance and examination of witnesses on his behalf under the same conditions as witnesses against him. Furthermore, articles 14(3) of the ICCPR provide only for the minimum guarantees. Therefore, a trial may still be unfair even after fulfilling the guarantees as laid down in paragraphs 2-7 of Article 14 and paragraphs 1-2 of Article 15 as they are open to wider interpretation.
Balancing Speedy Trial and Fair Trial
Ensuring a speedy and fair trial at the same time can be difficult.
This is because on the one hand, the right to speedy trial guarantees that there are no inordinate delays in delivering justice, on the other hand, the right to fair trial provides the defendant with adequate time to prepare for the defence and other related material. This leads to a contradictory circumstance where the right to speedy trial as well as the right to a fair trial have to be guaranteed simultaneously.
The Supreme Court of India, in the case of Mohd. Hussain v. State (Govt. of NCT of Delhi)
“Speedy trial” and “fair trial” to a person accused of a crime are integral part of Article 21. There is, however, qualitative difference between the right to speedy trial and the accused’s right of fair trial. Unlike the accused’s right of fair trial, deprivation of the right to speedy trial does not per se prejudice the accused in defending himself. The right to speedy trial is in its very nature relative. … The factors concerning the accused’s right to speedy trial have to be weighed vis-à-vis the impact of the crime on society and the confidence of the people in judicial system.”
The MP High Court’s notification mandating the disposal of the 25 oldest cases within 3 months can be said to provide speedy trial. However, in the guise of achieving the objective of speedy trial, fair trial cannot be compromised. According to the legal maxim, nullum crimen nulla poena sine lege, no person should be convicted except for a clear breach of the existing law. The clear breach of the law cannot be identified unless the accused undergoes a fair trial.
The objective of disposing 25 cases so fast can result in the principles of fair trial being compromised. Some of such principles include, the right to provide an opportunity of hearing, providing adequate time to the defence to prepare for the case and arrange the necessary files and documents.
To ensure that a trial is both speedy and fair, the below-mentioned may be considered:
Fixation of time-limits for different stages of the trial. Setting up an appropriate time limit can ensure that the trial moves smoothly and efficiently.
Courts can initiate pre-trial conferences, plea-bargaining and may use case management systems to efficiently manage the cases and resolve them fairly and speedily.
The MP High Court’s drive to expediate disposal of cases was really commendable, however it led to a controversy between the Bar and the Bench. Although, the right to speedy trial is a fundamental right but this right cannot be granted at the cost of the right to fair trial of the litigants. To ensure a just and effective judicial system, balancing the two becomes important. Thus, coming out with a solution on this conundrum is crucial and requires debates and policy changes as early as possible. Shripad Khirwadkar & Utkarsh Pandit