SC deadline for rape trials

New Delhi, Dec. 25: The Supreme Court has directed all high courts to ensure that rape trials are completed within two months and other criminal cases too are tried speedily.

The judgment came a few days before the December 16 bus rape that has set off a demand for fast-track trials in rape cases.

A two-judge bench said that sessions courts, which function under their state high courts, should conduct criminal trials day to day without unjustified adjournments or postponements.

The order came in relation to a criminal case where the trial court had granted a two-month postponement on "a mere request on behalf of the (defendant) that his counsel was busy in the high court".

The bench came down on "those indolent judicial officers" who justify delays by blaming the infrastructure. "A lazy workman always blames his tools," the bench of Justices Swatanter Kumar and Ibrahim Kalifullah said.

It said criminal trials involving punishment from two years to death must follow the provisions of Section 309 of the criminal procedure code, which says:

All witnesses present in court must be examined from day to day. If an adjournment or postponement is granted, the court must cite the "special reasons" in writing.

No adjournment should be granted solely to allow the accused to argue against the proposed sentence.

In appropriate cases, the court may ask whoever has sought the postponement ' the prosecution or the accused ' to pay the costs for the postponement.

In case of a postponement, the accused must not be remanded for more than 15 days at a time.

The court said the Supreme Court had issued similar directives in two previous cases but these were being flouted with impunity.

It asked the high courts to remind all the trial judges of the need to comply with Section 309, and take administrative action against any judge violating the mandate.

The trial, however, is not the only stage where delays happen, as the status of the Park Street rape case in Calcutta shows. Police chargesheeted the four suspects in May, three months after the alleged rape, but the metropolitan magistrate's court is yet to frame the charges ' a necessary step for the trial to begin.

The apex court passed the judgment while dismissing the appeal of a murder convict, Akil Javed, against the life sentence awarded to him. The bench was annoyed that the trial court had adjourned the case for two months without citing any special reason.

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