New Delhi: The Supreme Court has directed chief justices of high courts to constitute special benches to monitor and ensure the speedy disposal of criminal cases pending against MLAs and MPs.
While noting that it cannot frame uniform guidelines on the matter across the country, a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud noted that high courts can do so in their respective jurisdiction by invoking Article 227 of the constitution. The particular constitutional provision gives high courts the power of superintendence over all courts and tribunals throughout the territories in relation to which it exercises jurisdiction.
Although it refrained from framing guidelines, the apex court said high courts should register suo motu cases in their respective jurisdictions titled ‘In re: Designated courts for MPs and MLAs’ to monitor the early disposal of criminal cases pending against lawmakers. It said priority should be accorded to those cases which entail a death sentence or life imprisonment as maximum punishment.
“The special Bench may list the matter at regular intervals as felt necessary. The high court chief justices may issue such orders and directions as necessary for expeditious and effective disposal of the cases,” said the court, according to Hindustan Times.
The Chief Justice also said that high courts should list those cases where trials have been stayed by making all efforts to expedite the trials. To ensure that information regarding the trials in such cases is public, he ordered high courts to a separate tab on their websites to put various details regarding cases, including the status of the trial.
The top court’s directions came in response to a petition filed by advocate Ashwini Upadhyay in 2016, which sought directives to authorities concerned for fast-tracking criminal trials against sitting and former MPs and MLAs.
According to senior advocate Vijay Hansaria, acting as amicus curiae in the case, trials are pending in 5,175 cases across the country in which MLAs and MPs are accused. Of them, trial in 2,116 cases, which accounts for around 40%, has been pending for over five years, and most of these cases are from Uttar Pradesh (1,377), Bihar (546), and Maharashtra (482).
As The Wire reported earlier, 40% of sitting MPs have declared criminal cases against them, with 25% of legislators being accused of serious crimes including murder, attempt to murder, kidnapping, and crimes against women, as per a report by the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) and New Election Watch (NEW).