NEW DELHI: The high courts are taking unduly long time in deciding cases in which trial court proceedings are stayed at the stage of registration of first information report (FIR), investigation or framing of charges, the Supreme Court has said.
Describing it as a serious matter, the apex court bench of Justice (since retired) A.K. Ganguly and Justice T.S. Thakur, in a recent order, said: "Undue long delay has the effect of bringing about blatant violation of the rule of law and adverse impact on the common man's access to justice."
Justice Ganguly said: "A person's access to justice is a guaranteed fundamental right under the constitution and particularly article 21. Denial of this right undermines public confidence in the justice delivery system and incentivises people to look for short-cuts and other fora where they feel that justice will be done quicker."
The court also asked the high courts to exercise their extraordinary powers for staying the trial court proceedings with "due caution and circumspection".
Once a high court stayed the trial court proceedings, it should not lose sight of the case and decide it as early as possible preferably within six months from the date the stay order was issued, the judges said.
In Allahabad High Court, 32 cases have been pending for 30 years or more.
"A perusal of ... information reveals that shockingly 32 cases have been pending for 30 years or more," the order read.
The apex court noted that in most of the cases in different high courts, the duration for which a case remained pending varied from 1-4 years.
The delay weakened the justice delivery system and posed a threat to rule of law, the court said.
The court said that "the stay of investigation or trial for significant periods of time runs counter to the principle of rule of law, wherein the rights and aspirations of citizens are intertwined with expeditious conclusion of matters".
The "delay in conclusion of criminal matters signifies a restriction on the right of access to justice itself, thus, amounting to a violation of the citizens' rights under the constitution, in particular under Article 21", the order said.
"A sense of confidence in the courts is essential to maintain a fabric of order and liberty for a free people", the order said.
A delay in disposal of cases would make "people who had long been exploited in the small transactions of daily life come to believe that courts cannot vindicate their legal rights against fraud and overreaching", the judges said.
Holding that the case pendency was a "localised problem" as it affected a few high courts far more than others, the court noted that 76.9 percent of such pending cases were in four high courts - Calcutta (31.1 percent), Allahabad (28.6 percent), Patna (8.8 percent) and Orissa (8.2 percent).
The apex court asked the law commission to undertake measures to help in elimination of delays, speedy clearance of arrears and reduction in costs.
The court asked the commission to address the question as to what was the rational and scientific definition of "arrears" and delay, of which continued notice needed to be taken.
The court was hearing a petition by Imtiyaz Ahmad challenging the April 9, 2003 order of a high court staying trial court proceedings and subsequent nine orders till Dec 18, 2008.