- Right to speedy trial is a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.
- Despite several observations by the Supreme Court in this regard, there has been no express mention of the term “speedy trial” in the Constitution. Neither there was any direct provision on the same in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 which is the parent law regulating the Indian Criminal Law.
- In a positive light, section 309 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 provides for fast proceedings of inquiries and trials.
- The said provision is applicable to all criminal cases. However, in exceptional circumstances, courts may adjourn cases after stating reasons for the same.
Every Indian citizen has been conferred with some fundamental rights enshrined in Part III of the Indian Constitution. Among these, Article 21 is considered crucial as it covers a range of rights within its scope. One such right is the right to speedy trial. Our Indian Law is minded in treating its citizens equally under Article 14 which is to be applied also to accused persons. An accused person is the one who has been arrested for committing (or about to commit) an offence. The Indian Law confers on such persons certain rights during inquiries and trail proceedings. Besides Constitutional provisions, their rights are also protected under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.
SECTION 309 OF CRPC
The right to speedy trial is provided under section 309 of the Code. The Section Reads as Follows:
Section 309: Power to postpone or adjourn proceedings-“(1) In every inquiry or trial, the proceedings shall be held as expeditiously as possible, and in particular, when the examination of witnesses has once begun, the same shall be continued from day to day until all the witnesses in attendance have been examined, unless the Court finds the adjournment of the same beyond the following day to be necessary for reasons to berecorded.
Provided that when the inquiry or trial relates to an offence under Section 376, Section 376-A, Section 376-B, Section 376-C, or Section 376-D of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860), the inquiry or trial shall, as far as possible be completed within a period of two months from the date of filing of the charge sheet.
(2) If the Court, after taking cognizance of an offence, or commencement of trial, finds it necessary or advisable to postpone the commencement of, or adjourn, any inquiry or trial, it may, from time to time, for reasons to be recorded, postpone or adjourn the same on such terms as it thinks fit, for such time as it considers reasonable, and may by a warrant remand the accused if in custody :
Provided that no Magistrate shall remand an accused personto custody under this section for a term exceeding fifteen days at a time:
Provided further thatwhen witnesses are in attendance, no adjournment or postponement shall be granted, without examining them, except for special reasons to be recorded in writing:
Provided also that no adjournment shall be granted for the purpose only of enabling the accused person to show cause against the sentence proposed to be imposed on him.
Explanation 1-If sufficient evidence has been obtained to raise a suspicion that the accused may have committed an offence, and it appears likely that further evidence may be obtained by a remand, this is a reasonable cause for a remand.
Explanation 2-The terms on which an adjournment or postponement may be granted include, in appropriate cases, the payment of costs by the prosecution or the accused.”
It is clear that the section authorizes courts to proceed with the trials and inquires promptly. By directing a day to day examination of witnesses, the section has emphasized on the unnecessary delays in, and irregular conduction of trial procedures. Failure of courts to quickly dispose of cases is one of the real problem that is hindering us from achieving a fair trial and justice.
APPLICABILITY OF THE SECTION
The section is applied to all cases involving criminal trials and inquires of accused in custodyafter taking cognizance. The main reason behind this section is to give an express direction to courts to carry out speedy trials. At present, there are crores of pending cases in our country and the chief cause is the long delays in their trials and inquires. However, the section does not altogether forces the judiciary to dispose of cases anyhow, it also provides that in certain situations, hearings can be adjourned and the concerned Judge has to record the reasons for the same. Further, the proviso to section 309(1) mandates the completion of inquiry or trial of sexual offences within two months. The third proviso to section 309(2) was inserted in 2009 to make sure that no adjournment is granted for unjustified reasons.
The Explanation 2 clause empowers the Court to make terms and conditions as it deems fit while granting an adjournment or postponement of hearing. Similarly, the duration of the same has to be decided by the Courts which must be reasonable. Again, that what is reasonable depends on each case. This discretionary power given to the judiciary must not be exercised arbitrarily.
It is to be noted that the provisions under the Section is applicable in cases of detention in custody after taking cognizance. Section 309(2) clarifies the same which also gives the Court the power to remand the accused to custody but only for a term not exceeding 15 days at a time.
- Moti Lal Saraf vs. State of Jammu &Kashmir, (2006) 10 SCC 560: In this case, the Supreme Court stressed on the concept of speedy trial as a mandatory provision to uphold effective and efficient administration of criminal justice.
- Hussainara Khatoon vs. State of Bihar, (1980) 1 SCC 98, 107: The instant case is considered to be a landmark one with respect to ensuring speedy trial. In this case, the Apex Court directed both the State and the Judiciary to abide by the principles embodied in the Indian Constitution. It also provided guidelines to ensure prompt disposal of cases such as setting up of new courts, improving the investigation machineries, appointment of more judges, etc.
- Abdul Rahman Antulay v. R.S. Nayak, AIR 1992 SC 1701; and P. Ramachandra Rao vs. State of Karnataka, (2002) 4 SCC 578: The Top Court, while upholding the principle of speedy trial, did not give any specific limitation period for disposing of the cases, and had left it to the courts to decide based on the facts and circumstances of each case.
- Akil vs. State, (2013) 7 SCC 125: The Supreme Court directed all the trial court judges to adhere to section 309 scrupulously.
- Raj Narain vs. Supt., Central Jail, (1970) 2 SCC 750: The Court has the power to remand the accused to custody under section 309(2) even if the accused is absent.
- State of Maharashtra vs. Rasiklal K. Mehta, 1978:Cri LJ 809: It was observed that if a case is kept pending for a long time, then there is a possibility that important evidences may be obliterated and may not be available when needed.
Section 309 is one of the most important rules enacted under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. It is that rule that provides for expeditious proceedings to bring the guilty under charge and to give speedy justice to the innocent. Not all persons accused of certain crimes are meant to be guilty. There are rising cases of false accusations, misrepresentation, misidentification, and malafide prosecutions. This section seems to be a great tool to ensure that the innocents are not wrongfully punished. Similarly, even if a person did commit an offence, it is his right to be heard and given punishment according to the law, rather than remaining in custody, for long, just as an undertrial. Another importance of this section is that it could possibly help in the hearing of witnesses and submission of relevant evidences as soon as possible, without any loss.