This article is written by Simran from Mody University of Science and Technology, Lakshmangarh, Rajasthan and Curated by Naman Jain of Bennett University, Greater Noida.
The right to a speedy trial is a human right under which it is propounded that a government should not delay the trial of a criminal suspect arbitrarily. Otherwise, the power to delay would allow the prosecutors to send anyone to jail for an arbitrary length of time without any delay. Speedy trial is an essence of criminal justice, and in the United States, speedy trial is one of the constitutionally guaranteed rights as per the Sixth Amendment.
- Several cases deal with the right to speedy trial in Part III of India’s constitution. In Hussainara Khatoon (No. 1) v. Home Secretary, State of Bihar AIR 1979 SC, several undertrial prisoners filed habeas corpus writ petitions in jails in the state of Bihar for years awaiting their trial. The Supreme Court held that “right to a speedy trial” is a fundamental right given in the guarantee of life and personal liberty enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution. Further, the Court also held that the right to speedy trial flowing from Article 21 is available to accused at the stages, i.e., investigation, inquiry, trial, appeal, revision, and retrial. The Court underlying the right to speedy trial from the point of view of the accused are: –
- The period of remand and pre-conviction detention should be short. In other words, the accused shall not be confined or remained to unnecessary in prolonged detention for his conviction.
- Worry, anxiety, expense, stress, and disturbance to the peace resulting from an unduly prolonged investigation, inquiry, or trial shall be minimal; and
- Undue delay may result in the shattering of the accused’s ability to defend himself, whether on account of death or availability of witnesses or otherwise.
Regarding Time Limit – The court said that the accused cannot be denied the right of speedy trial merely because he had failed to demand a speedy trial. Concerning the time limit, the court decided that by balancing the attendant circumstances and relevant factors, including the nature of the offense, number of accused, and workload of the court. Therefore, no time limit can be fixed for a speedy trial. The charges for the conviction shall be quashed if the courts conclude that the right to speedy trial of an accused has been infringed.
In Raghubir Singh v. State of Bihar (1986) 4SCC 481, the accused persons being tried for waging war against the state, filed writ petitions under Article 136 before the supreme court for quashing the proceedings on the ground of violation of the right to speedy trial that is mentioned under Article 21 part III of the constitution. The court held that there was no delay in investigation and trial of their cases, and the right to speedy trial is one of the fundamental rights to life and personal liberty guaranteed in Article 21. The questions arise whether the right to speedy trial was infringed depending on various factors and Was the delay due to the nature of the case or was it due to the tactics.
In the present case, it was found that the delay was caused due to the tactics of the accused as asserted their rights, which were evident from the number of the petitions filed before the Magistrate, and the delay in the investigation was the outcome of the nature of the case.
Delay in the disposal of cases also violates Article 21, as mentioned in one of the famous cases i.e., Moses Wilson v. Kasturba AIR 2008 SC 379. The supreme court expressed concern in the delay in disposing of cases and directed the concerned authorities to do needful in the matter urgently before the situation goes totally out of control. In the present case, a suit was filed in 1947 for a sum of Rs. 7000/- and continued for 60 years. The Supreme Court expressed deep concern about the delay in disposing of cases in the court as due to this issue, people of the country are losing faith in the judiciary.
No Outer Limit for Speedy Trial
The delay varies from case to case, the manner of proof, and the gravity of the alleged crime. There cannot be a universal rule binding on it. It is a balancing process determining whether the accused’s right to a speedy trial has been violated or not—the judgment in Rajan Dwivedi v. C.B.I. Through the Director-General A.I.R. 2012 SC 3217, the Supreme Court held that mere delay in approaching a court of law is not a ground for dismissing a case though it may be a relevant circumstance in reaching a final verdict.
The Speedy Trial Act of 1974 was enacted to ensure the defendant’s and society’s interests in having speedy trials. It provides that the time period does not attach until the accused is arrested or served with a summons. However, the Act permits the Government to take such an action at any convenient time within the applicable statute of limitations. However, the defendant can prove a denial of due process by showing that the state’s delay was intentional and substantially prejudiced him in the presentation of his defense. The fact is that the above allegations are complicated to substantiate. In practical effect, the Act gives the Government an option to arrest the accused at the correct time or to delay, in order to build the case.