Conclude trial of lawmakers in a year, directs Supreme Court
The Supreme Court Monday directed that the trial in all the criminal offences involving sitting members of parliament and legislatures should be concluded within one year by holding it on a day to day basis.
A bench of Justice R.M. Lodha and Justice Kurian Joseph said the offences for which trial has to conclude within one year are those mentioned under Sections 8 (1), 8 (2) and 8 (3) of the Representation of the People Act.
The court said in cases where the trial could not be concluded due to special, extraordinary circumstances, this will be communicated to the chief justice of the high court concerned with the reasons. The chief justice in turn will issue appropriate directions, extending time.
The court direction came on a petition by Public Interest Foundation which sought to decriminalise the electoral politics.
The apex court Dec 16, 2013, had asked the Law Commission to address two question whether disqualification should be triggered upon conviction as it exists today or upon framing of charges by the court or upon the filing of the charge sheet by police before the court.
The second question for the consideration of the panel was whether filing of false affidavits under Section 125A of the Representation of People Act, 1951 should be a ground of disqualification. If yes, then what mode and mechanism needs to be provided for adjudication on the veracity of the affidavit.
In its recommendation, the law panel pitched for the stage of framing of charges as this "is based on adequate levels of judicial scrutiny, and disqualification at the stage of charging, if accompanied by substantial attendant legal safeguards to prevent misuse, has significant potential in curbing the spread of criminalisation of politics".
As a safeguard from its misuse, the panel said that only offences which have a "maximum punishment of five years or above" ought to be included within the remit of this provision and the charges filed up to "one year before the date of scrutiny of nominations for an election will not lead to disqualification".
In the course of the hearing, the court asked Additional Solicitor General Paras Kuhad whether this time frame could be reduced to six months, noting that everyone would like to come clean as early as possible. It noted that a speedy trial is a facet of the constitution's article 21 guaranteeing protection of life and personal liberty.
In the absence of a definitive answer from the government counsel, the court settled for fixing the time frame for the trial at one year.
(Posted on 10-03-2014)