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The Bench of Justices AK Goel and UU Lalit have been passing many pro-active orders on matters concerning judiciary and legal reforms.
The latest in the list is an attempt to explore means to ensure hearing of criminal appeals within a reasonable time.
The order was passed in a murder case from Jharkhand. The petitioner, who was convicted for murder and sentenced to life imprisonment, had approached the Supreme Court against refusal of bail by the High Court on account of delay in hearing of appeal. The Supreme Court had requested the High Court to hear the appeal expeditiously.
However, the High Court had, in its subsequent order, noted that it “is unable to hear appeals of the convicts where they are in custody for more than 13 ½ years due to paucity of Bench”.
Taking note of the High Court’s order, the Supreme Court observed,
“The High Court has observed that it is not possible to hear the appeal as much older appeals were still pending, where the convicts in those appeals have undergone as many as 13 ½ years. 4. The scene depicted in the impugned order is not limited to the Jharkhand High Court. Similar position prevails in several High Courts where large number of criminal appeals are pending and hearing takes more than ten years. In many cases, the convicts are in custody for many years. It appears that there is no likelihood of such appeals being heard in the expected time of about one year or at least within five years”
The Court said that speedy justice is a fundamental right under Article 21 and such right will become meaningless, if appeal is not heard within a reasonable time.
Referring to a meeting of the Arrears Committee of the Supreme Court, which was held on April 8, the Court noted that it is necessary to explore whether there can be alternative fora for hearing of appeals.
“Thus, it appears necessary to explore the suggestion whether there can be an alternative fora for hearing of appeals by adopting suitable legislative or administrative measures to effectuate the mandate of fundamental right under Article 21.”
The Court, therefore, proceeded to issue notice to Attorney General KK Venugopal. ASG Pinky Anand was requested to apprise the Attorney General about the issue. The Court also appointed Senior Advocate Dhruv Mehta as Amicus Curiae.
“We, accordingly, issue notice to the learned Attorney General to assist this Court on the question as to what can be remedies to ensure hearing of criminal appeals within a reasonable time. Mrs. Pinky Anand, learned Additional Solicitor General, who is present in Court and who had brief inter-action in court on the subject, is requested to apprise learned Attorney General about the issue. We also request Shri Dhruv Mehta, learned senior counsel who is also present in Court, to assist the Court as amicus.”
Advocates Harshvardhan Jha, Yugandhara Pawar Jha and Mayuri Shukla appeared for the petitioner.
Read the order below.