SC raps U.P. over lack of courts to try cases against lawmakers


The Hindu

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Supreme Court raps U.P. over lack of courts to try cases against lawmakers

The Supreme Court on Wednesday said States across the country have a large number of criminal cases pending against former and sitting legislators, and poll-bound Uttar Pradesh may host the “largest”.

“There are a large number of cases... the largest is in your State,” Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana addressed the counsel appearing for the Allahabad High Court.

The lawyer for the High Court said there were more than 1,300 criminal cases in Uttar Pradesh against legislators. Sixty-three Special Courts have been constituted to hear these cases. There are 74 districts of the State.

“Are these Special Courts constituted for this purpose [the trial of criminal cases against former and sitting MPs/MLAs] exclusively?” the CJI asked the lawyer. Justice Surya Kant, on the Special Bench, said the total pendency of such cases in the State was 1,374.

“You have not established a single court exclusively for this purpose,” Justice Kant said, adding that existing courts have been “labelled” Special Courts.

“Is it your intention to drag on these cases,” Chief Justice Ramana asked. The court is considering the delay in complying with a Supreme Court decision to have High Courts constitute Special Sessions and Magisterial Courts to quicken the pace of long-pending criminal cases against legislators across the country.

Justice D.Y. Chandrachud referred to a December 4, 2018 order which had requested each High Court to “assign/allocate criminal cases involving former and sitting legislators to as many Sessions Courts and Magisterial Courts as each High Court may consider proper, fit and expedient”.

However, according to a report submitted by senior advocate Vijay Hansaria and advocate Sneha Kalita, the Allahabad High Court had constituted only Special Courts at the level of the Sessions Judge for trial of criminal cases against legislators. Moreover, the amicus report noted that the Special Judge in Allahabad was saddled with jurisdiction of over 12 adjoining districts where 300 cases against legislators were pending.

“You have misinterpreted the order of this court... We do not know the reason...” the CJI addressed the Allahabad High Court lawyer.

“Three hundred cases are pending in one court! These 300 cases are lying in the dust with other 7,000 cases already pending in that court,” Justice Kant observed orally.

“You have misconstrued our order... The order is very clear. We had said ‘as many Sessions Courts and Magisterial Courts as each High Court may consider proper’. When other States have constituted Sessions and Magisterial Courts, Uttar Pradesh has constituted only Special Courts at the Sessions Judge level,” Justice Chandrachud said.

Hansaria submitted that in States like Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and West Bengal, there is a Magistrate designated as the Special Court for cases against legislators.

“There was a direction by us, to create special courts at Magistrate level. How will you justify that in U.P. alone, cases are tried by Sessions Judge?” the CJI asked.

The court was hearing the legal question raised by senior advocate Kapil Sibal, for Azam Khan, whether an offence against a legislator, triable by a Magistrate, can be heard by a Sessions Court, depriving the accused a stage of appeal.

“This is sheer discrimination and not procedure established in accordance with the law,” Sibal argued.

The court contemplated that the way forward may be to request the High Courts, which have not constituted Special Magisterial Courts, to establish them. The case on trial at the Special Sessions Courts would be transferred to these new Magisterial Courts. The trial of these cases would resume from the point of transfer.

Additional Solicitor General S.V. Raju, for the Centre, objected, saying the transfer of the records of these cases would take time and further delay the trial.

“They can constitute the Magistrate Court in the same court complex... No time will be taken,” Justice Kant responded.

Over 4,400 criminal trials have been held up, some for decades, because the powerful MPs and MLAs had approached High Courts and got an interim stay. Some date back nearly 40 years. Most are stuck at the stage of framing of criminal charges. These cases range from corruption to money-laundering.

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