In a move that aims to address the problem of criminals in electoral politics, the Supreme Court Monday ordered that trials against MPs and MLAs be completed within a year of charges being framed, observing a speedy trial will ensure consequences come about “sooner than later”.
A lawmaker, if held guilty of crimes specified under the Representation of the People Act, will be disqualified immediately whereas an acquittal would ensure that all doubts about his continuance are put to rest, according to the court.
The order will ensure that politicians charged with serious crimes are not re-elected because their trials dragged. At present, a candidate can contest elections while being tried. The government estimates that there are around 2,000 cases involving MPs and MLAs pending in courts across the country.
“We accordingly direct that in cases of sitting MPs and MLAs, who have charges framed against them under offences of the Representation of the People Act, the trials are concluded as speedy as possible and in no case later than one year from the date of framing of charges,” a bench of Justices R M Lodha and Kurian Joseph said in its order in a PIL by NGO ‘Public Interest Foundation’.
The bench also ordered that trials in such cases must be conducted daily.
If the trials fail to conclude within one year due to “extraordinary circumstances”, the court said the trial judge would submit a report with the chief justice of the concerned high court, apprising the court of the “special reasons” for the delay.
“It is observed that in such situations, the chief justice may issue appropriate directions to the concerned court for expediting the trial,” the court added.
The bench passed this order as it was convinced that speeding up the trial was in the interest of justice for all stakeholders since it would guarantee timely disqualification of a lawmaker as well as secure the fundamental right of speedy justice to the accused.
The bench also impressed upon Additional Solicitor General Paras Kuhad, who appeared for the Centre, to increase the budgetary allocation for the judiciary so that it gets adequate infrastructure.
“We would want you (Centre) to have more funds so that there are more courts, more number of judges and sufficient infrastructure. Speedy justice is an important facet of Article 21 (right to life and liberty). We think all trials should be completed within one year and cases of MPs and MLAs are not seen as exception. Till we can do that, we should start from somewhere at least,” the bench said.
While passing the order, the bench also took into account a recommendation made by the Law Commission, which has opined that MPs and MLAs, charged by the trial court with crimes entailing more than five years’ jail term, should be disqualified.
The court was initially reluctant to pass any order in the PIL due to poll dates being announced but noted during the course of hearing that a directive for speeding up trials would only ensure better administration of justice.
On the issue of specifying additional grounds for disqualifying a lawmaker, the bench said it wished to “tread with caution” so that it did not step into legislative domain.
“We must not cross the line on this issue. Although there are no formal lines drawn between different institutions, our constitution provides for separation of power. We don’t want to encroach upon the domain of the legislature by passing any orders on disqualification,” it said and posted the matter after six weeks to adjudicate the issue on additional grounds for disqualification.
The court will also on the next date deliberate over bringing in some amendments in the RP Act to make filing false affidavits by candidates a more serious crime.