Be the solution

Ensuring speedy trials requires concerted effort from both government and the judiciary

By: Express News Service | Published: February 14, 2017 12:06 am
Tihar Jail suicide, Tihar Undertrial Suicide, Tihar Prisoner suicide, Jail Suicide, Undertrial Suicide, Prisoner Suicide, Lance Naik suicide, Lance Naik dead, Delhi news, India news Tihar Jail in Delhi’s Tilak Nagar. Express photo by Ravi Kanojia.

Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad’s missive to all high court chief justices to “review” cases of undertrials who have been incarcerated for long and to “take suo motu action for their release” is a move in the right direction. A plethora of data highlights the seriousness of the problem. National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, for example, shows that of the over 2.82 lakh people in jail in 2015, about 67 per cent were undertrials. More than 65 per cent of the undertrials spend three months to five years in jail before getting bail. Prasad has called for a national mission to rectify matters. But while there is no reason to doubt the law minister’s sincerity, it remains to be seen if his directives could herald a change in India’s notoriously sluggish justice delivery system.

Calls to rectify matters have been made before. The issue of undertrials found mention during the imbroglio over the appointment of judges last year. But very often the plight of those languishing in jails entered the argument only to make a case for the urgency of the appointment of judges. While there is no doubt that an overburdened judiciary is a major reason for the delay in justice, other shortcomings in the criminal justice system require urgent redressal. Police and prison officials, for example, often fail to fulfill their roles, leading to long delays in trials. Most of the undertrials come from disadvantaged social groups — several surveys have shown that 50-55 per cent of the undertrials are from minority communities and Dalits. NCRB data shows that 70 per cent of them are illiterate. Lack of resources constricts their ability to seek out lawyers and hostile police and prison authorities are rarely of help — despite a 1980 Supreme Court ruling that Article 21 of the Constitution entitles prisoners to a fair and speedy trial as part of their fundamental right to life and liberty.

The understaffed judiciary compounds the problem. Section 167 of the Code of Criminal Procedures mandates that judges can extend a detainee’s custody for a period of 15 days at a time. For that to happen, the detainees have to be produced regularly before the courts. This rarely happens; proceedings don’t take place in time and the undertrials are shuttled from court to court. While issuing his directive to the judges, the law minister asked all “the stakeholders — the government and judiciary — to take collective responsibility” to ensure that that the “institutional mechanism” works “seamlessly to ensure access to justice for the undertrials”. The work should begin in right earnest.

For all the latest Opinion News, download Indian Express App

  1. V
    Feb 17, 2017 at 4:32 am
    Judicial and police reforms are long overdue. It's time to take the problem seriously for people to have faith in rule of law.
    1. B
      Feb 14, 2017 at 8:32 am
      We are indeed short of judges but my experience in dealing with the system suggests it is a far more serious problem. Government has been sleeping over the Malimath Committee Report and the law Commission and the Parliament do not care for the people who suffer and pay for injustice. There ought to be total change in the management of the courts, case management, specialization of judges, sentencing guidelines and a sentencing commission etc. The most important stumbling block is the Bar which delays cases inordinately as the lawyers want to extract the maximum money in each case. And from what I have seen in the High Courts the political nomination of judges in the states has not been good. The standards of prosecutors is abysmal. he new Law universities are good but the products largely go private practice.
      1. Sandeep Kumar
        Feb 14, 2017 at 6:45 am
        Both rots in justice system are well known for decades now. Lack of required number of judges and reforms in Code of Criminal Procedure(CrPc). Historically, we always had 30pc vacancies but problem now is that it has well ped 40pc. Current judicial appointment system is simply not able to cope with demand and our Lord supreme court will not allow to be replaced by NJAC. So only way out is to have an Indian Judicial Services(IJS) on similar lines IAS/UPSC. Second rot lies in CrPC-1973 which is nothing but a copy paste of Indian Police Act-1861 with minor cosmetic changes. Basically, we are still ruling with imperial CrPC. This creates dichotomy because Indian consution is should be foundation of CrPc is rather very liberal. Unless we don't address this dichotomy we will continue to have problems. But, election in this country are won based on caste/religion so which political party would want to do something which requires a lot political capital and but gets no votes. :(