The Law Ministry has called for “procedural reforms” to improve the criminal justice system in the country, saying criminal trials are riddled with the problem of frequent adjournments despite provisions in place to prevent delays. It has asked the Advisory Council of National Mission for Justice Delivery and Legal Reforms to take a call on the need “for certain procedural reforms, either through amendments to the existing law or through proper implementation of the provisions that are already in place” to improve the criminal justice system in the country.
The Council, chaired by Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, will meet in New Delhi on October 18 to discuss various issues, including the need to overhaul the criminal justice system.
Section 309 of the Code of Criminal Procedure requires that the proceedings in a criminal case should be held as expeditiously as possible and on a day-to-day basis. It also grants the court the power to postpone or adjourn proceedings for reasonable time periods; for reasons to be recorded in writing.
“This provision is, however, accompanied by certain restrictions on the power to grant adjournments, some of which were added through the Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Act, 2008 to address the issue of frequent adjournments being sought by the parties.
“… Despite the existence of these provisions, criminal trials are riddled with the problem of delays on account of frequent adjournments. This calls for the urgent need to put in place a system for the proper monitoring of the number of adjournments being granted by judges in each case. In addition, courts should proactively enforce the provisions of Section 309, which allows them to order the payment of costs for adjournment requests,” the Law ministry note for the meeting says.
The existing provisions say that no adjournments are to be granted at the request of a party, except for circumstances beyond its control. It is also explicitly stated that the pleader of a party being engaged in another court is not a sufficient ground for seeking adjournments.
Further, in order to minimise the inconvenience caused to witnesses, section 309 discourages the grant of adjournments in situations where witnesses are present in court but the party, though also present, is not prepared to examine the witness.
As per available data as on December 2015, there were a total of 27,019,955 cases pending across various district and subordinate courts out of which 18,614,308 were criminal cases.
Data from the National Crime Records Bureau shows that there were 2.1 million serious criminal cases pending under the Indian Penal Code in 2009 and this had risen to 2.8 million in 2014, indicating an increase in the number of serious crimes. The data further reveal in 58.3 per cent cases tried in 2014, the accused was either discharged or acquitted.
Other members of the Council include Law Commission Chairman Justice B S Chauhan (retd), Minister of State for Law P P Chaudhary, Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, representatives of the Supreme Court Registrar General office and members of the Bar Council of India.