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Justice delayed again: Former Chief Justice of India explains why cases like Salman Khan drag on

In the latest development in Salman Khan's hit-and-run case, which has been dragging on for the past 13 years, the Bombay High Court on Friday suspended the sentence handed over to the actor by the Sessions Court. Salman Khan will now not go to jail but will be granted regular bail. Reports also said that the actor will have to file for a fresh bail plea.

He has to surrender again before the sessions court and then get a fresh bail bond. The HC has essentially hit the restart button on a case that has already taken 13 years.

What explains the long delay in the delivery of verdict in the Salman Khan hit-and-run case? Former Chief Justice of India VN Khare believes had the government wanted it, the judgement could have come much earlier. There is no reason why it should take 13 years for the prosecution to collect evidence and examine and cross examine 27 witnesses, he says.

"The case was delayed just because the government did not want to bring the actor to book," he told Firstpost.

He even raised concern over the fairness in the probe process saying, “fair and speedy trial and justice depend on how unbiased the investigation conducted by the police or other agencies has been.”

Salman Khan. Image courtesy: Solaris Images

Salman Khan. Image courtesy: Solaris Images

Advocating that the police should never be a probe agency he said, “The entire case depends on the investigation conducted in an incident, reports by field experts and materials brought on record by the prosecution. And I refuse to accept that the police probe can be unbiased and free from favouritism in most of the cases because the police work under the political administration. Its officials depend on political leaders for their transfer, promotion and other interests.”

Then what is the alternative? “An autonomous body which is free from the executive, such as the Election Commission, should be formed to investigate cases. In addition, the prosecution should also be independent.”

Talking about the highest pendency in his state’s court, Justice Kalimullah Khan, former judge at the Allahabad High Court defended the judiciary arguing that the judiciary only could not be held responsible for the huge backlog of cases. “The data that shows huge pendency includes infructuous matters. Moreover, the greatest litigant is the state for the simple reason that its officers, especially administrative and police officials, pass orders in matters put before them without applying their minds. Much of their orders reflect arbitrariness causing grievance to the parties concerned. With no other option the latter approach the court. It accelerates the docket inclusion,” he told Firstpost.

He also considers the poor judge-population ratio as one of the major reasons behind the huge backlog of cases. “The sanctioned strength of judges of Allahabad High Court has been 160 for long. But the working strength of the judges has never exceeded 90 to 95 for several years. At present, there are only 79 working judges in the High Court against the sanction strength of 160. Under the aforesaid circumstances, how do you expect expeditious disposal rendering with zero pendency,” he asked. He said judges always try to see the objectivity in their orders and it needs time.

Expressing displeasure over the judicial process in the country, he said, “The country is left with no rule of law, which comes with speedy justice. There is a huge pendency of cases in different courts of the country but cases are being disposed of at a snail’s pace.”

According to Legal Service, over 30 million (3 crore) cases are pending before different courts in the country and it would take at least 300 years to clear the backlog if the justice delivery system is not overhauled. The Supreme Court, according its website, had 61,300 pending cases as on 1 March 2015. The pendency in lower courts and 24 high courts stood at a whopping 2.6 crore and 44.5 lakh (10,23,739 criminal and 34,32,439 civil cases) respectively till the end of 2013, says a PTI report.

Former judges say the huge backlog is the result of a combination of factors like delay in police investigation, unwarranted adjournments, poor judge-population ratio, shortage of judicial professionals, lack of infrastructure, ineffective and weak alternative dispute resolution mechanism, the gap between the allocated and actual working strength of judges and work culture of the bench among others.

“How do you expect speedy trial and justice delivery in a country where judge-population ratio is 13.5 to 10 lakh? There are 150 judges for the same population in the United States. European countries too have over 100 judges for the same number of people,” said Justice Khare.

Both the former judges emphasized on ‘alternate dispute resolution mechanism’, including Lok Adalats, to bring down the number of pending cases.

Are fast-track courts a solution? Veteran lawyer KC Mittal, who was president of the Delhi High Court Bar Association, said no. “As far as the delay in trial and disposal of cases is concerned, there are many bottlenecks. Nobody wants to focus on real issues causes of delays but as and when there is a public hue and cry, everyone finds an easy solution in talking about fast-track courts. This measure won’t help. We need to address the real issues. Why should the police take time in completion of investigations? It is basically lethargy of the probe agency because of which investigations are delayed,” he said.

Giving reasons why the number of cases pending in different court of laws is on the rise, Mittal said nobody applies mind whether cases are fit for trial or not. “When the matter comes to the court, there is no proper scrutiny at any stage and proceedings keep going on.” Therefore, he added, the time has come where the whole system must be remapped.

“While pronouncing a judgement, no court gives reasons why and how the conclusion of the matter got delayed and who was responsible for it – the police, prosecution or the accused. If anyone is not honestly and diligently pursuing the case, his or her responsibility should be fixed and court must make observation proposing action against them if any,” he added.

Advocate Naushad Khan, additional standing counsel of the Delhi government for High Court, feels extensive use of scientific methodology may prove a milestone in shortening the time taken in a probes and disposal of cases. He also feels that no protection for prime witnesses is also a factor which causes delay in disposal of cases.

Updated Date: May 08, 2015 15:43 PM

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