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The Court has directed trial courts to commence trials at the earliest, by adopting either with physical hearings, virtual hearings or a hybrid of both, depending on which of these was most suitable.
While hearing a bail application preferred by a person charged with being a part of a gang found in possession of firearms, the Calcutta High Court has voiced its concern over trials being protracted even after the country has begung the unlock phase of its COVID-19 pandemic containment lockdown.
Observing that the country was gradually easing its lockdown restrictions with the Unlock Guidelines, the Bench of Justices Joymalya Bagchi and Suvra Ghosh stated:
Accordingly, the Court has directed trial courts to commence trials at the earliest, by adopting either with physical hearings, virtual hearings or a hybrid of both, depending on which of these was most suitable.
The Court also emphasized upon compliance with physical distancing norms and other COVID-19 safety protocol while hearing cases.
The Court highlighted the Supreme Court's Guidelines for expeditious trials in Hussain v. Union of India while passing its order. In that case, the top court had proposed a uniform target to conclude trials in sessions cases where undertrials were in detention for two years, and also where an undertrial in a case triable by a Magistrate was in detention for more than six months.
Trials of the following categories of cases have now been directed to be commenced:
Sessions cases where the accused is in custody for two years and more
Cases that are tried by a Magistrate where the accused is in custody for six months or more.
Cases where the trial is to be concluded within a specified time frame, such as prosecution of cases under the POCSO Act, Prevention of Corruption Act, Negotiable Instruments Act, and rape cases.
Financial crimes such as trials of accused in Ponzi schemes or under the Prevention of Money-Laundering Act,
National Investigation Agency (NIA) trials,
Cases where the superior courts have given specified directions for conclusion of trial,
Cases that are at a matured stage of trial, such as those where the accused has been examined etc.
In the case at hand, the accused had been in custody for more than five years. The Court records that the charges against the accused were "grave". Additionally, the bail application made by a co-accused in the same offence had also been turned down by another Division Bench of the Calcutta High Court.
While expressing its disinclination to allow the applicant bail, the Court took note of the protracted jail term already undergone by the accused and directed the Lower Court to commence trial.
However, his bail application was rejected.
Read the Order here: