Little could have been done to expedite trial: Judge who convicted 100

Presiding over original trial from 1996 until 2007, Justice (retd) Pramod Kode saw the switch from typewriters to computers, remembers Sanjay Dutt breaking down

Written by Ruhi Bhasin | Mumbai | Published: June 17, 2017 3:12 am
Former justice Pramod D Kode. Ganesh Shirsekar

FOR NEARLY 11 years, his life revolved around one single case. His daughters had to go to school and then college accompanied by a policeman. He couldn’t ever take leave for a holiday. Justice Pramod Kode, who presided over the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) court from March 1996 to 2007, hearing India’s longest running major trial, cannot forget any detail of the case, not even after his retirement in February 2015.

“The atmosphere in the city was very volatile,” says Justice (retd) Kode, stressing that he was always acutely aware that the trial had to be conducted in a manner that the faith of the accused in the legal system was never dented. As many as 123 accused persons were on trial, of whom 23 were acquitted, leading to a conviction of 100. The court examined a total of 684 witnesses during the course of the trial.

The trial of Abu Salem and six others was separated because they had been arrested later. Justice (retd) Kode says he did not closely follow the later developments in the case. “The case was already at a very belated stage when these other accused were brought in. I had recorded that evidence already recorded would be binding on these accused also. If I had not separated the matter, the case would have been prolonged till today,” he says. Recalling the atmosphere in the city when the trial began, Justice Kode says it was “horrifying” as speculations continued of similar incidents recurring.

“Due to the pressure and magnitude of this case, I had no time to think about any other matter. I couldn’t afford to take leave for even a day excepting when I fractured my hand,” he says.

The pronouncement of his judgment itself took months. “Each accused had to be called into the box. They were told what they were guilty of. Thereafter, recording of each accused’s statement would take place, which would take 15 minutes to an hour, after which both sides would be heard,” he recalls.

The pronouncement began in May 2007. “The first order was of acquittal. The process went on till August 2007,” adds Justice Kode.

He remembers vividly how many broke down upon hearing the pronouncement, including actor Sanjay Dutt. “In the case of actor Sanjay Dutt, I observed that everything was not lost for he had his entire life in front of him,” says Justice Kode. Many others, including a government official and a police officer, broke down. “The police officer was a sub-inspector accused of taking a bribe to allow landing of the arms and ammunition. He got life imprisonment,” he recalls.

The trial was also tough on his family. “Both my daughters went to school and college accompanied by a police officer,” says the retired judge.

Asked if the trial could have been expedited in any way, he concedes that it may have been too much work for a single courtroom, but nothing more could realistically have been done to fast-track the case. But in 1999, the court switched from recording evidence on a typewriter to a computer. That actually sped things up, the judge recalls.

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  1. V
    v b
    Jun 17, 2017 at 12:12 pm
    The hearing of the deposition could have been assigned to 10 to 15 Commissioners with the hearing fully video and audio taped. If the Judge found any discrepancy, doubt or omission or lapse in any hearing as found in the videotape, he could have called the witnesses to the court and done a repeat of the deposition. The Judge should have concentrated mainly only on evaluation of the evidence, going through the arguments which could have been in writing.
    1. V
      Vishnu Bhat
      Jun 17, 2017 at 10:06 am
      but why 1 years? why could the trial be completed and judgement delivered succinctly in a month? When will our courts speed up? No explanations can justify such a long trial - it actually is miscarriage of justice.
      1. S
        Jun 17, 2017 at 9:10 am
        Whatever the learned prosecutor may say, 20 years to settle a case is the height of procrastination and unneccessary drag. The whole matter could have been completed in 5 years whether it was the typewriter era or otherwise. If no haste is shown by thee court even 50 yeara will be a short time for our legal system to decide cases.