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Fast track justice

 Fast track justice

The statement by Justice A.S. Anand, former Chief Justice of India and Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, that the acquittal decision in the Best Bakery trial by a fast-track court was a "miscarriage of justice," is not limited to that case, but can be applied to the entire mechanism of so-called fast track courts as envisaged by the previous NDA government and now scrapped by the current UPA administration. The state did very little to return justice to its proper 'quick' track, and it is impossible for the average person to appreciate the question of when he would receive ultimate justice in criminal or civil action. 

The decision to allow the fast-track courts to close by the end of April, a year earlier than the five-year deadline, by starving them of funds because the Twelfth Finance Commission did not recommend any allocations, will bring the experiment to an end without finding a viable alternative or doing anything to resolve pending cases.

Alarming Proclivity

The number of unresolved cases is troubling. According to information available on July 5, 2000, there were 21,600 cases pending before the Supreme Court, compared to 1.05 lakhs a decade prior. In the High Courts, there are currently 34 lakhs of outstanding cases, compared to 19 lakhs ten years ago. The number of cases that have been outstanding for over ten years. 

One of the causes for the massive growth in the number of outstanding cases in High Courts is the failure to replace judge vacancies in a timely manner. There are now about 100 such positions. The number of cases awaiting trial in the country's 12,378 district and subordinate courts is believed to be in the millions. 1,500 of the 12,205 judge and magistrate positions in these courts are vacant.

The right to a timely trial is a fundamental right.

All of the delays, lack of accountability, and half-baked ideas make the fundamental right to a swift trial a daily farce. "A timely trial is essential to criminal justice, and there can be no question that the delay in trial by itself constitutes denial of justice," the Supreme Court stated (Hussainara Khatoon V. State of Bihar AIR 1979 SC 1364).

In another instance, "There can be no question that quick trial — by which we mean a fairly expedited trial — is an inherent and vital aspect of the basic right to life and liberty contained in Art 21," it said (Maneka Gandhi V. Vol, AIR 1978 SC 597)

It is a vital responsibility. Even if Art. 21 is not invoked, the constitutional need for prompt justice is unavoidable. The state is obligated to ensure social, economic, and political security, according to the Constitution's preamble. According to the Directive Principles of State Policy, the state should aim for a social order in which justice informs all aspects of national life (Art 38 (1)). "The State should guarantee that the operation of the legal system promotes justice...; to ensure that chances for attaining justice are not denied to any person because of economic or other disadvantages," it goes on to say (Art 39A). The Supreme Court has held that "social justice" includes "legal justice," which means that "the system of administration of justice must provide a cheap, expeditious, and effective instrument for the realisation of justice by all sections of the people, regardless of their social or economic position or their financial resources."


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