Hussain & Anr. v. Union of India

In this landmark judgement, the Apex Court recapitulated the long delay which has stigmatised the Indian judiciary and issued directions to ensure speedy trial. The court further discusses under what circumstances bail can be granted on the ground of delayed proceedings when a person is in custody.
CITATIONCriminal Appeal No. 509 of 2017
COURTSupreme Court of India
JUDGES/CORAMJustice A.K. Goel and Justice U.U. Lalit
DATE OF JUDGEMENT09.03.2017

Introduction

In this landmark judgment, the division bench of Hon’ble Apex Court recapitulated the notion that long delay has the effect of blatant violation of rule of law and adverse impact on access to justice which is a fundamental right and ergo imposes an obligation upon the High Courts to enact a suitable action plan fixing a tentative time limit for subordinate courts for deciding criminal trials of persons in custody and other long pending cases and monitor implementation of such timelines periodically to effectuate the mandate of the fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution.

Facts

The facts of the case are as follows: Grievance in the instant appeals is against denial of bail pending trial/appeal where appellants have been in custody for a long period on the ground that in lieu of the fundamental right to a speedy trial guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution, they were entitled to bail.

In the first case, the appellants had been in the custody since 4th August 2013 on the allegation of having committed offence under Section 21(c) of the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985. Their bail application, pending trial, had been dismissed.

In the second case heard with this case (Aasu v. State of Rajasthan[1]), the appellant was in custody since 11th January 2009. He had been convicted by the trial court under Section 302 IPC and sentenced to undergo life imprisonment. His bail application had been dismissed by the High Court pending appeal.

Issues

The question of seminal importance before the Hon’ble Court was under which circumstances bail can be granted on the ground of delayed proceedings when a person is in custody. To appraise/assist the Hon’ble Court in this regard, notice was issued to Ld. Attorney General, and Mr.Siddharth Luthra, Senior Advocate was appointed Amicus Curiae.

Summary of court decision and judgment

After a careful of perusal of the facts of the case arguments advanced, authorities cited  Adarsh Kumar Goel, J. speaking for the Division Bench of Hon’ble Apex Court reaffirmed the position of law that timely delivery of justice is a part of human rights and its denial poses a serious threat to public confidence in the administration of justice.

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After referring to the provision of Section 436A Cr.P.C. which mandates grant of bail when a person has undergone detention up to one half of maximum prescribed imprisonment, it was held that the said provision was not attracted in the instant case as the appellant, in the first case had not undergone the requisite detention period to be entitled to claim bail. With regard to grant of bail, pending appeal, the Hon’ble Court while disregarding the reliance placed by the respondents on the decisions in Akhtari Bi (Smt.) v. State of M.P.[2] and Surinder Singh alias Shingara Singh v. State of Punjab[3] wherein it was laid down that if the appeal is not heard for 5 years, excluding the delay for which the accused himself is responsible, bail should normally be granted, to buttress their proposition, opined that second case was not covered by the said judgment as the pending appeal in the High Court was of the year 2013. Lastly, relying upon the dicta of Hon’ble Apex Court in Abdul Rehman Antulay and ors. v. R.S. Nayak and anr.[4] that speedy trial at all stages formed a part of the right secured Article 21 and if there was a violation of the right of speedy trial, instead of quashing the proceedings, a higher Court can direct conclusion of proceedings in a fixed time, the Hon’ble Supreme Court disposed off the appeals by directing that the pending trial in the first case and the appeal in the second case must be disposed of within six months.

Analysis

The division bench of the Hon’ble Apex Court while reiterating that speedy trial is a part of reasonable, fair and just procedure guaranteed under Article 21 held that this constitutional right cannot be subverted even on the plea of non-availability of financial resources. The court, it was opined, is entitled to issue directions to augment and strengthen investigating machinery, setting-up of new courts, building new court houses, providing more staff and equipment to the courts, appointment of additional judges and other measures as are necessary for speedy trial.[5]

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Furthermore, it was observed that though in lieu of decision taken to establish arrears committees and prepare a plan to clear backlog of cases pending for more than 5 years at the Joint Conference of Chief Ministers of States and Chief Justices of High Courts held in April 2015, such committees had already been constituted, the position of five-year old cases continued to be alarming in many states and ergo, enunciated the following guidelines:

  1. The High Courts may issue directions to subordinate courts that
  2. Bail applications be disposed of normally within one week;
  3. Magisterial trials, where accused are in custody, be normally concluded within six months and sessions trials where accused are in custody be normally concluded within two years;
  4. Efforts be made to dispose of all cases which are five years old by the end of the year;
  5. As a supplement to Section 436A, but consistent with the spirit thereof, if an undertrial has completed period of custody in excess of the sentence likely to be awarded if conviction is recorded such undertrial must be released on personal bond. Such an assessment must be made by the concerned trial courts from time to time;
  6. The above timelines may be the touchstone for assessment of judicial performance in annual confidential reports.
  7. The High Courts are requested to ensure that bail applications filed before them are decided as far as possible within one month and criminal appeals where accused are in custody for more than five years are concluded at the earliest;
  8. The High Courts may prepare, issue and monitor appropriate action plans for the subordinate courts;
  9. The High Courts may monitor steps for speedy investigation and trials on administrative and judicial side from time to time;
  10. The High Courts may take such stringent measures as may be found necessary in the light of judgment of this Court in Ex. Captain Harish Uppal v. Union of India[6].

Conclusion

The dicta of the Hon’ble Apex Court in the instant case, while highlighting the importance of speedy trial as being an integral aspect of criminal justice system guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution, requested the Chief Justices of all High Courts to forthwith take appropriate steps consistent with the directions of this Court in HussainAra Khatoon and ors. (VII) v. Home Secretary, State of Bihar and ors[7], Akhtari Bi (Smt.) v. State of M.P[8], Noor Mohammed v. Jethanand and anr[9], Thana Singh v. Central Bureau of Narcotics[10], Supreme Court Legal Aid Committee representing undertrial prisoners v. Union of India and ors[11], Imtiyaz Ahmad v. State of U.P. &Ors[12], Ex. Captain Harish Uppal v. Union of India[13] and Resolution of Chief Justices’ Conference and observations and to have appropriate monitoring mechanism in place on the administrative side as well as on the judicial side for speeding up disposal of cases of undertrials pending in subordinate courts and appeals pending in the High Courts.

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[1] Criminal Appeal No. 511 of 2017.

[2] Akhtari Bi (Smt.) v. State of M.P. (2001) 4 SCC 355.

[3] Surinder Singh alias Shingara Singh v. State of Punjab (2005) 7 SCC 387.

[4] Abdul RehmanAntulay and ors.v. R.S. Nayak and anr. (1992) 1 SCC 225 Para 86.

[5] Hussainara Khatoon and ors (IV) v. Home Secretary, State of Bihar, Patna  (1980) 1 SCC 98  para 10.

[6] Ex. Captain Harish Uppal versus Union of India (2003) 2 SCC 45.

[7] HussainaraKhatoon and ors.(VII) etc. v. Home Secretary, Bihar and ors. etc. (1995) 5 SCC 326 para 2.

[8] Akhtari Bi (Smt.) v. State of M.P. (2001) 4 SCC 355.

[9] Noor Mohammed v. Jethanand and anr (2013) 5 SCC 202.

[10] Thana Singh v. Central Bureau of Narcotics (2013) 2 SCC 590.

[11] 6 Supreme Court Legal Aid Committee representing undertrial prisoners v. Union of India and ors.  (1994) 6 SCC 731 para 15.

[12] Imtiyaz Ahmad v. State of U.P. &Ors (2012) 2 SCC 688.

[13] Ex. Captain Harish Uppal v. Union of India (2003) 2 SCC 45.