The Supreme Court on Wednesday reserved its orders on Amicus Curiae, Vijay Hansaria's report for the expeditious disposal of criminal trials pending against legislators (sitting and former) across the country.
During the course of the hearing, the Centre, through Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, expressed that it would welcome an order aimed at quickening the process of trials pending against MPs and MLAs.
Pursuant to the Top Court's Order dated September 10, 2020, seeking details of cases pending against sitting and former legislators under Special legislations, various High Courts had sent their reports to Amicus Curiae, Senior Advocate Vijay Hansaria.
Earlier the Court had been informed that trial was pending against law makers in 4442 cases across the country. However, Mr Hansaria had informed Court that barring 6 High Courts, details of cases pending against legislators under Special Statutes had not been furnished to him. The Court had thereafter, on September 10, directed all High Courts to furnish additional details about cases pending under special legislations within 2 days.
Having received this information, in addition to the previous report submitted by the Amicus on September 8, Hansaria made additional submissions in a report placed before Court in compliance with the abovementioned Order.
These reports indicate that there are 175 cases are pending under Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 and 14 cases are pending under Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002.
When the matter came up for consideration before a Bench comprising of Justices NV Ramana, Surya Kant and Hrishikesh Roy, the Amicus informed the Court that data shows there is no uniformity with regard to setting up of Special Courts for MPs and MLAs across the country.
Hansaria further added that there is no clarity with regard to which Court is trying offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 or the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002.
He went on to give a state-wise breakdown of the cases pending trial and threw light on his suggestion to tackle the situation.
The Bench agreed that there were problems with regard to special statutes like Prevention of Money Laundering Act & Prevention of Corruption Act. The prominent issue highlighted was that in various cases it was seen that central agencies and the police had not executed warrants or served summons which led to the stalling of trial.
Another problem agreed upon was with regard to logistics of the courts that were currently hearing these matters.
"There are issues when there is only one court in a State. They may not be accessible. Witnesses don't go there. What should be done?", enquired Justice Surya Kant.
The Amicus apprised the Court of his suggestions regarding appointment of a judicial officer to hear such cases in each District of a State. (Details of the report are enclosed below)
SG Tushar Mehta also weighed in and stated that there must be time bound disposal of these cases, wherein a time frame of one month may be given for expeditious disposal.
"The cases must reach its logical conclusion in a time bound manner", said Mehta, in support of expeditious disposal of pending trials.
Coming back to the problems highlighted through the latest report, Justice Ramana clarified that while the previous information averred to 4442 pending cases, with additional data it can be seen that "the number is well above 4600-4700 cases".
Hansaria reiterated that the big issue is that witnesses don't come, summons aren't served. "We need to appoint a particular officer & make him responsible for carrying this out", he suggested.
He further highlighted that cases pending with CBI & ED have suffered issues regarding service of summons & execution of warrants. Before the Court reserved its Order, the Amicus asked that these agencies be requested to submit details about what stage the various pending cases were at.
Reserving its Order, the Bench stated that directions will take note of all suggestions made by Amicus Curiae Vijay Hansaria and that High Courts will be asked for a blue print which is feasible in terms of disposing pending trials at each State's level
"We will pass orders based on suggestions made by the Amicus & ask High Courts to submit an action plan for implementation of the same", said Justice Ramana.
He also averred that a proper blue print will be sought from Chief Justices of all High Courts on how to go about disposing of pending trials.
Amicus Curiae, Vijay Hansaria had made supplementary submissions to his initial report of September 8 subsequent to details received by him from High Courts in compliance of the Apex Court's Order dated September 10. These submissions comprised of possible solutions to the massive pendency of cases against legislators, and are made under the following 5 categories:-
Special Courts in every district for trial of all criminal cases against MPs/MLAs
-It has been urged that every High Court be given directions to allocate one judicial officer in every district as a special court where criminal cases involving former and sitting legislators will be heard. It is further suggested that High Courts may also prepare blue prints to ensure the trial is concluded expeditiously within 1 year. To this effect, the Chief Justice of each High Court may be asked to personally look into setting up an action plan.
-The High Court report would also include a method to expeditiously dispose of trials under special legislations as well.
-The designated judicial officer shall try these matters on priority basis. The term for such officer be prescribed at a minimum of 2 years.
-Cases be dealt with in the following order of priority
1.Offences punishable with death/ life imprisonment;
2. Offences under Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 and Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002;
3. Schedule Caste and Schedule Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 and Offences under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012;
4. Offences punishable with imprisonment for 7 years or more;
5. Other offences.
-It is further prescribed that these special courts give priority to cases involving sitting legislators over former legislators.
-No adjournment be granted except in rare and exceptional circumstances where a reasoned written application is submitted with relevant grounds
Cases Under Stay
It has also been suggested that trial courts be allowed to proceed with trials even in cases which have been stayed by the High Court, unless a fresh stay is granted by recording reasons for doing so.
Alternately, Registrar Generals may be directed to place such stayed trials before the Chief Justice to secure urgent listing, which may be posted before an appropriate bench within a period of 2 weeks.
Nodal Prosecution Officer and Public Prosecutor
-It has been submitted that Each District may appoint a Nodal Prosecution Officer, who shall not be below the rank of an Additional Superintendent of Police.
-This Officer shall be made responsible for the production of accused legislators before the court and for execution of non-bailable warrants issued by the court. The officer shall ensure summons are served upon witnesses, and that they appear and depose before court accordingly.
Lapses on such officer's part would make them liable for initiation of contempt of court proceedings against them.
-It has further been prescribed that each State/Union Territory must appoint a minimum of 2 Special Public Prosecutors in the Special Courts in consultation with District and Sessions Judge in the concerned District.
Establishment of 'Safe and Secure Witness Examination Room'
All High Courts could be asked to submit a report regarding the establishment of a 'Safe and Secure Witness Examination Room' in each court complex, suggests the Amicus. These rooms be equipped with internet facilities for the purpose of recording of evidence of the witnesses through video conferencing.
Rules for Video Conferencing for Courts
High Courts could also be urged to adopt "Rules for Video Conferencing for Courts" in accordance with those framed by the Karnataka High Court with required modifications. While the modifications are made, the rules framed by Karnataka may be adopted pan India.