How does the closure of physical courts affects our criminal justice system, especially the trials!



Sudeep Chandra,

Intern, Criminal Justice System Reforms Initiative



“Lex uno ore omnes alloquitur” which means that everyone is equal before the eyes of the law which is an important principle which forms the basis of judicial proceedings across the world. The law treats everyone equally and in Article 14 of the Indian Constitution exclusively deals with the Right to Equality. Criminal justice touches on all aspects of our lives and in ways that most people might not think about. Criminal justice is important because it’s a system that includes law enforcement, courts, prisons, counseling services, and a number of other organizations and agencies that people come into contact with on a daily basis.

The criminal justice system is any organization that touches upon the question of law and order in society. As an individual, you can come in contact with the criminal justice system in a number of ways. If you come in contact with a Police out on the street, you come in contact with the criminal justice system. Our prison system is part of the criminal justice system. Our courts are part of the criminal justice system. Our law enforcement is part of the criminal justice system.

The criminal justice system is an integral part of the democratic setup. The implementation of the criminal justice system rests with three institutions, i.e. the Courts, the police and the prisons. With a ratio of 144 police officers per 100,000 citizens, the Indian police is operating at 30% vacancy. The Indian police-to-population ratio is much lower than the United Nations’ recommended 222 per 100,000 citizens.

Courts in India at all levels (District Courts, High Courts and Supreme Court) have a backlog of over 3.5 crore cases.Economic Survey of 2018-19 projected that we would need more than 8,500 additional judges overall, including eight at the Supreme Court over the next five years to clear the backlog.Indian jails are overcrowded, housing more than 4.6 lakh prisoners at 117% occupancy. Notably, almost 70% of these prisoners are under-trial prisoners, i.e., those who haven’t been convicted yet.

We live in an age of media trials, vigilante Police and mob lynchings – all symptoms as well as causes of an ailing criminal justice system. As demonstrated above, the criminal justice system is inadequately staffed. In 2019, India’s unemployment rate was approximately 7% (which has now shot up to 23% in response to Covid-19 triggered economic recession).


The Courts In India

More than 85% of the backlog of cases is at the district and subordinate courts. The goal is to clear the logjam, and ensure that no new pendencies are created. Rendering judgments (and clearing the logjam) is not a purely mechanical exercise; and even with each court operating at full strength of the bench, the delivery of justice will take fairly long.

Under the National Mission for Safety of Women, the government has planned to set up 1,023 Fast Track Special Courts (FTSCs) aimed at time-bound disposal of cases of crimes against women and sexual offences against children. The institution of specialized courts has been undertaken before, for instance, courts set up under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention), 1987 and under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985; and this is a welcome move.

For instance, FTSCs for crimes against scheduled castes and tribes can be set up in 20 chosen districts of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, which reported the highest number of caste-based crimes in 2018.


TRIALS

Trials are an indispensable part of any proceeding. Conducting fair trails is an important aspect of the law which ensures equality.Trials are an inevitable aspect to bring out justice. Trials have to be conducted properly following all the procedures and steps so that it would be fair and free from influences. There is no proper definition of the term trial in the Code of Criminal Procedure,1973. Trials are an examination of offence by the judicial bodies which have jurisdiction over it. Section 225 of the Code of Criminal Procedure,1973 mandates that in every trial before the Court of Session, the Public Prosecutor will conduct the prosecution.

Concept of a fair trial

The concept of a fair trial is not just a right provided in our country but it is also guaranteed by various other legislations all over the world. Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights deals with the Right to a fair trial. Article 14 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) guarantees the right to a fair trial and Article 16 provides a right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law. Article 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which guarantees the right to a fair trial.


Closure of the Courts effects the Trial Part

The Right to get a fair trial is an essential right of every accused. The concept of fair trial brings confidence in the public and the people start to believe in the judiciary. It is necessary to follow every above-mentioned aspect in order to ensure that the trial is free from biases. These rights are not just domestic rights but also the various international conventions guarantee these rights.

The Supreme Court and the High Courts of various states have issued circulars requiring litigants to approach courts only for urgent matters and not otherwise, namely, only matters which require urgent remedies in the form of ad-interim relief will be heard. In a recent case, the Bombay High Court imposed costs of INR 25,000 on a party who approached the court claiming urgency, whereas the court did not find any.In addition, the Supreme Court of India has embraced modern technology and issued a Standard Operating Procedure dated April 15, 2020, for filing and listing of urgent matters, and conducting hearings through video conferencing to overcome the lockdown.

Similarly, the High Courts of various Indian states have designated special courts for video conference hearings, and the court registry has permitted litigants to present extremely urgent matters directly to the court without filing the proceedings or even paying the appropriate court fees. In respect of criminal matters, the Hon’ble High Courts of various states have instructed all subordinate courts in the state to entertain only urgent matters, as for example, bail and anticipatory bail applications, remand orders and orders for grants of stay. Having said that, the trial matters or cases, both on civil and criminal sides, which do not merit urgency are put on a backburner.The principal district judges of the subordinate courts have also been given the discretion to control their own operation and functionality.

The Supreme Court of India, in exercise of its extraordinary powers under Article 142 read with Article 141 of the Constitution of India, has extended the period of limitation applicable to all Indian laws. This order is binding across all subordinate courts and tribunals in India.


Right of the Accused to Know the Accusation

Article 22 of the Indian Constitution provides that no person can be detained in custody without giving proper information. Section 50 of the Code of Criminal Procedure also provides that it is the right of every accused to be informed about the various grounds of arrest.


Conclusion

The recommendation is to set up an entire infrastructure, from the police to the courts, geared at uprooting that category of crimes.This would take the process of justice closer to its inherent value of human dignity and equity. This consequently improved quality of investigation will turn the wheels of the delivery of justice in the courtroom.


References

https://blog.ipleaders.in/trial-before-courof-session/

https://www.outlookindia.com/website/story/opinion-fault-lines-of-indias-criminal-justice-system-warning-bells-and-the-way-forward/3538

The disintegration of the criminal justice system https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/the-disintegration-of-the-criminal-justice-system/article32785928.ec

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