Introduction – Delay in Trial

The maxim given out by Sir William Gladstone postulates that whenever an unreasonable delay is caused in the administration of justice, it constitutes an unconscionable denial of justice. The main aim of a judicial system is to deliver justice on time and in a reasonable manner. The reasonableness of justice is guided as per law and procedure. Substantive laws usually define the obligations and rights of citizens, whereas procedural laws help inefficacy of substantive laws.

The Code of Criminal Procedure of 1973 (herein referred to as CRPC) is a procedural law that lays down the procedure to be followed in a criminal case along with duties to the reasonable, effective and efficient delivery of justice. Section 309(1) of CRPC focuses on conducting a trial in a speedy manner and day to day trial of examination of witness once it has begun. So, the procedure aims at providing expeditious proceedings while conducting a trial to provide quick relief to the victim.

In the case of Hussainara Khatoon and Ors. v. Home Secretary, State of Bihar, the Hon’ble Supreme Court found that speedy trial is an integral and essential ingredient of reasonable, fair and just procedure guaranteed by the Article 21 of Indian Constitution. Therefore, speedy trial is an intrinsic part of the criminal justice system, and delay in justice is constituted by delay in the trial.

The Supreme Court, in the case of A.R. Antulay and Ors. v. R.S. Nayaka and Anr., and Raj Deo Sharma v. the State of Bihar, issued directions for speedily conducting trial along with fixing a maximum time limit for conducting a trial according to punishment under IPC. This paper argues that the right to speedy trial is guaranteed by Article 21 of the Indian Constitution on the basis of section 309 of CRPC, but it remains unimplemented due to beguile practises such as adjournment of cases, non-attendance of witnesses, absence of lawyers, and interim application causing delay in trial.

Beguile Practices Causing Delay in Trial

The trial is referred to as determining the guilt or innocence of a person who has been charged with an offense. In India, trial takes place at the lower criminal courts, often used interchangeably with trial courts. There are so many crimes happening in India on daily basis including rape, murder, domestic violence and stalking being the most. According to the Print, there are around 2.32 criminal cases pending in India. This clearly shows the failure of trial courts to conduct a trial on time and provide justice to the victim. There are various beguile practises and factors which have been identified and held responsible for delay in the trial:

Adjournment of cases for petty reasons

Courts have been overburdened with cases, and adjournment granted on flimsy grounds resulted in pendency of cases. Section 309 of CRPC, along with Rule I, Order XVII of CRPC, empowers the court to adjourn and postpone the hearing. This adjournment is generally provided after the court considers reasonability to postpone the hearing on a case-to-case basis.

Various case laws talked about different grounds on which the court could grant an adjournment, including sickness of either party, his council, or his witnesses, the inability of the council to conduct a case, reasonable time to prepare for the case, etc. Whereas, courts may refuse an adjournment on the grounds of non-examination of the witness present in court, non-availability of counsel due to engagement in other courts, abuse of process of the court, etc.

In the case of Sukhpal Singh v. Kalyan Singh, the Supreme Court said that there are no definite rules on the power of the court to grant or refuse adjournment. Still, it should be provided by the court on reasonable grounds and after considering the facts and circumstances of every case. Therefore, it is essential to record the reasons for the adjournment. In the present time, corruption and power play an essential role, which can easily be used to delay the trial and get adjournment of proceeding on different grounds even if it’s unreasonable. Thus, they defeat the purpose and provisions of law.

The Malimath Committee also suggested that the courts should not use adjournment as a tool for delaying the trial as well as justice. To deal with such a situation, the Committee suggested that the exceptional circumstances must be laid down properly under which adjournments could be granted. The Supreme Court also held that the court should look into matters themselves where adjournments are not justified, and Article 21 on speedy trial is being violated. Section 309 of CRPC could also be amended by the imposition of costs for adjournment against the party who seeks and obtains adjournment. The cost would also include expenses of the witness whose statement has not been recorded due to adjournment and other similar events.            

Non-attendance of Witness

It also plays a crucial and primary role in the delay of trial. A list of witnesses has to be submitted by the parties to the suit whom they wish to call for different purposes, including giving evidence, producing documents, and obtaining summons for their attendance in the court. Order XVI, Rule 1(1) of CRPC specifies the time limit for filing of the listen but allows to file it with a delay of fifteen days too.

The main reason to submit the list of witnesses is to give notice to the opposite party about the nature of witnesses so that they are in a position to know the nature of evidence and prepare accordingly. In India, the delay has been seen by the courts where the parties are incompetent to present the list of witnesses, which causes undue delay. The other delay includes non-appearance of witnesses when the summons has been issued.

Even though courts have the power to issue various awards against the summoned person who didn’t attend the court, including warrant of arrest, selling his property and imposing fine, but still the laziness of Indian courts, especially at the district level, poses a significant threat on delivering justice on time. 

Absence of Lawyers

Prolongment of cases has also been observed due to the non-availability of lawyers on the scheduled date of hearing. The courts usually adjourn the case when the lawyer of a party remains absent due to ill-health and other medical-related matters, but in reality, the reason for non-availability is usually due to engagement in other court or non-preparation of the case. In India, both the codes, i.e., CPC and CRPC, are based on general guidelines that it is not ethical that detriment of any party takes place in the absence of his lawyer. Under CPC, Order IX, Rule-1 states that parties need to be present in person on the day fixed of summoning either themselves or through their lawyers for the defendant to appear. If the plaintiff doesn’t appear, then such cases are dismissed, and if the defendant doesn’t show up, then ex parte hearing of the suit is done. Defendants may be asked by the court to pay costs if they find that non-appearance was un-reasonable on the next date of hearing. Costs are very less in today’s inflationary situation, thus becomes easy to delay proceedings of a case.

Application at any stage

In India, the lawyers follow a practice of filing a new application in a case at any stage of the proceeding. This is done in the guise of submitting documents or making amendments in pleadings, which are said to be vital for consideration before disposal of a case. The existing laws also help the lawyer in this technique, which causes undue delay.

Under Order VI, Rule-17 of CRPC provides that the court may allow the party to amend his pleadings in such a manner as it becomes necessary to determine the real question of controversy between the parties. An amendment in 2002 to CRPC tried to solve the problem of delay by allowing leaders to amend their pleadings before the trial has commenced unless the court finds due-diligence that the party couldn’t have raised it before the commencement of trial.[1]

The lawyers took advantage of this due-diligence and plea under it to amend their pleadings. But, it has been seen that it is usually done to consume the time of the courts once they foresee that they might lose the case.  Following such practices causes substantial delay because new documents have to go through a dilatory process similar to a new application, including notices, arguments, etc. before disposal of the case.[2]       

Delayed Pronouncement of Judgement

Justice withheld is often considered to be more dangerous and worse than justice denied. The right to appeal is hindered due to inordinate, unexplained delay in pronouncing the judgment. In the case of Sukhpal Singh v. Kalyan Singh (Supra), the Supreme Court found that “a right of appeal to meet the requirement of 21 of the Constitution cannot be made a fraud by protracting the pronouncement of the judgment for reasons which are not attributable either to the litigant or to the State or the legal profession.” Section 353(1) of CRPC provides that a judgment shall be pronounced in an open court or at a subsequent time where a due notice shall be given to parties concerned. The words ‘subsequent time’ contemplates the passing of a judgment without any delay because if a delay happens, it’s against the principles of law. The Law Commission of India also found that some judges who don’t deliver a judgment even after several months shake the confidence of people in the judicial system.[3]

Conclusion

After analyzing the factors above, it can be said that there is no single factor that is solely responsible for delay in the trial. All these factors together contribute to delay in the trial, which results in a delay in providing justice to the victim. Frequent adjournment is seen as one of the essential reasons for the delay in the trial. But the inflow of cases easily outnumbers such adjournments, which leads to increasing the pending cases. The limited number of judges in every court in comparison to judges is also an essential factor that causes a delay in the trial. The opinion is unanimous that the number of judges in each court should be increased for hearing cases timely. So, section 309 of CRPC remains unimplemented in India, but a strict implementation of conducting a speedy trial in a time limit manner will ensure quick access to justice. Therefore, it is crucial to amend section 309 by putting some costs on adjourning and resolving all the above-highlighted problems in a manner so that the problem of delay can be nipped in the bud and trial could speedily take place as ensured by Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.       


[1] Order VI, Rule-17, CRPC.

[2] G.M .Dinkar, A Note On Lews Delay, XXIII(l) Indian Bar Review at 75 (1996).

[3] 177th Report, Delays in Trial, Law Commission of India (1978).


About the Author: Harshul [2018-23] is pursuing B.B.A.L.B (Hons) from Jindal Global Law School.


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