In the case of ASHWINI KUMAR UPADHYAY vs. UNION OF INDIA [Writ Petition(s)(Civil) No(s).699/2016], the Supreme Court of India has ordered that no unnecessary adjournments should be granted in criminal cases pending against legislators across the country.
The bench comprising of Justices NV Ramana, Surya Kant and Aniruddha Bose was considering the PIL filed by Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay.
The submission was made by senior advocate Vijay Hansaria, who is the amicus curiae in the PIL that sought speedy disposal of criminal cases against elected representatives of the parliament and state legislatures.
S TARTLING FACTS:
• Their submission made to the Supreme Court had revealed the startling number of sitting legislators who face criminal cases, with the data showing that a whopping 2,556 MLAs and MPs from 22 states are accused in cases. If former MPs and MLAs from these states are also included, the number rises to 4,442.
• According to sources, other cases against elected representatives include offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act 1988, Prevention of Money Laundering Act 2002, Arms Act 1959, Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, 1984, defamation under section 500 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), and cheating under section 420 of the IPC.
T HE SUGGESTIONS IN THE AMICUS CURIAE:
• The submission of amicus curiae carried a series of suggestions that could ensure expeditious trial of cases in which MPs or MLAs are accused, including the constitution of special courts in every district to handle such cases.
• These special courts should then give priority to cases dealing with offences punishable with death/ life imprisonment; offences punishable with imprisonment for 7 years or more; and other offences, in that order, the amicus suggested to ensure speedy trials.
• Cases which involve sitting legislators should be given priority over those in which former legislators are accused, the submission added
• The respective high courts should also monitor the progress made in these cases by registering a suo motu case with the title “In Re: Special Courts for MPs/MLAs” to ensure that the Supreme Court’s directions are complied with, the submission says.
• In cases involving sitting or former legislators, witness protection is essential. In such cases, witnesses are vulnerable due to the influence exercised by the legislators who are facing criminal trials, the amicus noted.
DIRECTIONS BY THE SUPREME COURT: (slide 5 heading and text)
• The top court, in a series of directives issued by it has asked for the Witness Protection Scheme, 2018 to be strictly enforced by the Union States and the Union Territories. Keeping in mind the vulnerability of the witnesses in such cases, the Trial Court may consider granting protection under the said Scheme to witnesses.
• Acknowledging the public interest involved in the matter, and in order to prevent undue delay, the court directed that no unnecessary adjournments may be granted in these matters
• “We have already passed directions with respect to vacation of stay that may have been granted by the High Courts vide order dated 16.09.2020. In that order, we had directed the Chief Justices of the High Courts to list the matters relating to the aforementioned cases before an appropriate bench, and to decide on any issue relating to stay by keeping in view the principles laid down by this Court in Asian Resurfacing of Road Agency Private Limited v. CBI – 2018” the court clarified.
• The directions in the present writ proceedings are applicable to both – sitting as well as former legislators.
What bearing the present SC directives could have on the elections and largely on the Indian democracy? Let us know in the comments below.