NEW DELHI: If one had filed an appeal against conviction for an offence in
Allahabad High Court
before 1990, there are chances that it could still be in a labyrinthine queue of cases awaiting a decision.
The Supreme Court last week came across statistics on chronic pendency of appeals in ten High Courts across India and found that
has the dubious distinction of accounting for 14,207, or 98%, of a total of 14,484 appeals that are pending adjudication for more than 30 years.
A bench of
Justices L N Rao and S Ravindra
Bhat found that over 33,000 appeals were pending in these 10 HCs for a period between 20 to 30 years, and again Allahabad HC had the lion's share accounting for nearly 20,000 of them. The appeals waiting their turn to be heard for the last 10 to 20 years numbered at 2,35,914, of which 88,732 were in Allahabad HC.
An anguished SC said, "These facts pose a challenge to the judicial system, inasmuch as the right to speedy trial would also include the right to speedy disposal of appeals of those convicted. If such appeals are not taken up for hearing within a reasonable time, the right of appeal itself would be illusory, inasmuch as incarcerated convicts (who are denied bail) would have undergone a major part, if not whole of the period, of their sentences."
The SC had taken the initiative to speed up the appeal adjudication process in the HCs on November 4 last year, when a bench headed by then CJI
was told by senior advocate Devadatt Kamat that his client's appeal has not been heard by the Allahabad HC for last three years. The convict Khursheed Ahmed, through counsel Rajesh Inamadar, told the bench that he has already been in prison for three years and there was no chance of his appeal getting heard in the near future.
Though the SC had remarked that non-hearing of appeals expeditiously could not be a ground for grant of bail, nonetheless, it violated the right to speedy justice of a person. Seven months after taking the initiative to expedite the appeal hearing mechanism in the HC, the bench of Justices Rao and Bhat said, "It is in public interest- and the interests of the convicts, that such appeals too are disposed of on merits expeditiously."
It asked the HCs of Allahabad, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Patna, Rajasthan, Bombay and Orissa to file affidavits indicating their plans of action for deciding the criminal appeals pending for a long time. "In addition to the data available with them, the HCs shall also co-ordinate with the Director General Prisons in
to compile data with respect to convicts in jails of those states, who are awaiting hearing of their appeals."
The bench asked the HCs to indicate - "number of convicts awaiting hearing of their appeals pending before them; number of very old cases where bail has been granted; steps proposed to expedite hearing of appeals, including steps to prioritize hearing of cases of convicts in jail; steps proposed to trace and ensure hearing of cases of those who were granted bail, and the timeline for starting hearings; appropriate use of information technology, such as digitization of appeal records/paper books; feasibility of creation of a dedicated pool of amicus curiae who would assist the court in such old matters; feasibility to creation of dedicated special benches for hearing and disposal of old cases."
While seeking additional suggestions from the HCs to speed up the appeal hearing process, the SC asked the HCs to file the required affidavits five days before the next hearing, which is scheduled for July 29.