An Objective Presumptive Bar in Criminal Trials: Analysis of R. v. Jordan of the Supreme Court of Canada and its applicability to India+
The Indian judiciary has become synonymous with lengthy trials.
Numerous Law Commission Reports have attempted to present solutions to the mounting backlog of cases in courts with suggestions ranging from increasing the strength of the judiciary, targeted changes to the CrPC
, and methods to reduce the burden on the judiciary by diverting cases alternate dispute resolution methods, and introducing plea bargaining. However, despite numerous reports and the lapse of over 35 years since Hussainara Khatoon and Ors.
v. Home Secretary, State of Bihar,
which brought to the forefront the dismal state of affairs of people languishing in jail
for years on end without the initiation of trial, it seems that the constitutional right to a speedy trial has yet to be infused with true meaning. This is envisaged in the acquittal of three Kashmiri youth in February 2017 by the Delhi High Court, 11 years after being wrongly charged and held for the 2005 bomb blasts in Delhi, despite overwhelming prima facie evidence to the contrary at the time of arrest.
This points to systemic problems in the Indian criminal justice system, and a failure of all the actors in the administration of justice viz. the police, prosecution, defence, judiciary and Government. This is further corroborated by statistics which show that as of 2015, 67.2% of the total inmate population of prisons were undertrials
, of which 35.2% were detained for upto 3 months, and 1.3% were detailed for more than 5 years.
As Raj Kumar observes, statistics such as these, particularly the small percentage of undertrial detainees for over 5 years may be used to rebut the stereotypical image of India’s criminal justice system, this data reveals nothing about the kinds of offences for which these people were detained.
For all we know, it could be a situation similar to Hussainara Khatoon where people were held in custody for longer than the maximum sentence their crime carried. Therefore, although much may have been written on this issue, it is still pertinent. What is needed is a radical new framework that will force the criminal justice system to shake off the yoke of complacency that has become deep rooted and the delay that we have come to perceive as normal. For this purpose, the article takes inspiration from the Canadian case R.
Part II of the article will briefly explain the importance of a speedy trial. Part III will provide an overview of the framework in R.
Part IV will trace seminal Indian jurisprudence pertaining to the issue of an imposition of an outer time limit for the conclusion of criminal proceedings. While doing so, it will compare and contrast Indian case law with R.
. Part IV will argue that R.
presents a pathway that addresses the concerns which the Supreme Court of India has voiced when it has declined to lay down a presumptive ceiling. Part V will continue this argument and simultaneously attempt to present recommendations and a way forward for India. Part VI will offer conclusion.
II. SIGNIFICANCE OF A SPEEDY TRIAL
The importance of the right to a speedy trial is prima facie evidenced by the fact that it finds itself in the legal system of democracies around the world. This is because it is in the interest of both the State and society as a whole that disputes are adjudicated upon quickly, the guilty are punished and the innocent exonerated within a reasonable time. Apart from the costs of prolonged litigation, in criminal trials the accused may often remain in pre-trial custody or be released on punitive bail conditions, thereby restricting his liberty. Furthermore, the accused is often deemed to be guilty in the court of public opinion until he is declared innocent, which may significantly affect his standing in society, cause him stress, anxiety, stigma and create obstacles with regards to finding and retaining employment. Lengthy trials also aggravate victim suffering by preventing the victims and their families from moving ahead with their lives. Prolonged trials have the potential to prejudicially affect both the accused and the victim, on account of degraded evidence, unavailability or death of witnesses and fading memories. Timely trials enable witnesses and victims to make meaningful contribution to the evidence, while repeated adjournments and delays cause frequent interruptions in their lives, deterring cooperation. Speedy justice also has the benefit of acting as a deterrent to crime,
something that is sorely lacking in India due to the slow pace of trials. Faster trials also save money for the government by lowering the number of undertrials housed in state custody.
Lastly, speedy trials are often an indicator of the health of the judiciary and a lack of timely trials tends to lower faith in the justice system and negatively impact the rule of law.
III. THE JORDAN FRAMEWORK
A. Section 11 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Section 11 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is concerned with proceedings in criminal and penal matters. Specifically, s. 11(b)
states that “any person charged with an offence has the right to be tried within a reasonable time.”
At the outset it is important to note the usage of the word ‘reasonable’ in s.11(b)
. As C. Raj Kumar, referencing Carl Barr’s article
discussing Canada’s case law on this issue notes, numerous legal scholars have voiced their frustration with Canada’s Supreme Court for equating speedy trial with trial within a reasonable time.
Despite the usage of the word ‘reasonable’ in a statute, which occurs frequently in legal parlance often with connotations of ambiguity attached to it, the Supreme Court of Canada in R.
adopts an objective, numerical presumptive bar on the time it should take to complete a trial.
B. R. v. Jordan
The accused, J, was charged in December 2008. His trial concluded in February 2013. He remained in custody till February 2009, after which he was released under house arrest. The accused brought a s.11(b)
application seeking a stay of proceedings due to excessive delay in the conclusion of trial. The trial judge rejected the application and convicted J, which was upheld by the Court of Appeal for British Columbia. J appealed to The Supreme Court of Canada.
Whether a delay of 49.5 months between the filing of charges and the end of the trial infringed upon the defendant’s right to be tried within a reasonable time under s.11(b)
The Supreme Court of Canada in a 5:4 verdict, allowed the appeal, overruled the Court of Appeal, set aside the conviction, and granted a stay of proceedings.
4. The framework
Central to the Jordan framework is a presumptive ceiling, beyond which delay (calculated as the time from charging to the actual or anticipated end of trial) is presumed to be unreasonable. The Court laid down a numerical ceiling of 18 months for cases tried in provincial courts (lower courts), and 30 months for cases tried in superior courts
(courts of inherent jurisdiction) as the outer time limit for the completion of trial. For calculating delay, the Court laid out a formula wherein the first step was deducting delay attributable to the defence. Defence delay consisted of two components viz
. waiver by the defence of the inclusion of specific periods from the calculation, and delay caused by the conduct of the defence (such as baseless applications) which hindered the smooth flow the trial. The Court however, elucidated that the defence should not be penalized for legitimate actions taken to respond the charges levelled. The purpose of this step was twofold viz
. to expedite trial and to prevent the defence from profiting from delay caused by its own conduct without prejudicing his rights. The second step was to determine whether the remaining delay fell above or below the presumptive ceiling. If delay was above the ceiling, it was to be considered presumptively unreasonable. Emphasising that once the presumptive ceiling was breached the burden shifted to the Crown to rebut the presumption,
the Court held that exceptional circumstances constituted the only grounds for such a rebuttal.
Exceptional circumstances were defined to include those situations which were outside the Crown’s control in that “(1) they…[were] reasonably unforeseen or…
(2) the Crown could not reasonably remedy the circumstances from which the delay arose. The Court further clarified that exceptional circumstances could be categorized as either discrete events (for instance a medical emergency involving the judge/witnesses/counsel or accused) or particularly complex cases (for example involving a case involving extradition of the accused, cases involving particularly complex evidence, etc).
Perhaps more importantly, chronic institutional delay was explicitly ruled out as a reason that the Crown could rely upon to rebut the presumption of unreasonable delay.
IV. JURISPRUDENTIAL DEVELOPMENT OF SPEEDY TRIAL LAW IN INDIA
Unlike the Canadian Charter, or the American Constitution,
the Indian Constitution does not contain an explicit guarantee of a speedy trial. Article 21 of the Constitution states that “no person shall be deprived of their life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.” 
The wide interpretation given to Article 21 in Maneka Gandhi
v. Union of India
brought the right to a speedy trial within the ambit of fundamental rights. This was firmly brought into the ambit of Article 21 in Hussainara Khatoon and Ors.
v. Home Secretary, State of Bihar
, wherein it was held that a speedy trial was the essence of the criminal justice system and a delay in trial constituted a delay in justice.
Subsequent to Hussainara, numerous Indian cases over the years have grappled with a similar issue as in R.
with respect to the imposition of an objective outer time limit for the completion of criminal trials. This section will chart the development of Indian jurisprudence on this issue.
A. State of Maharashtra v. Champalal Punjaji Shah
Noting the smilarity between the Indian and the Canadian justice system, Carl Barr observes that court of both the countries have adopted a more activist posture compared to American courts, as evidenced by the greater permissibility of interlocutory appeals.
The Supreme Court in State of Maharashtra
v. Champalal Punjaji Shah
was acutely aware that system of interlocutory appeals was susceptible to abuse by defendants.
This formed the basis of the decision wherein the Supreme Court (similar to the Jordan framework) held that when adjudicating the issue of the violation of a defendant’s speedy trial right, courts must take into account whether the delay was caused by the actions of the defendant himself. Further, the Court held that every delay in proceeding does not necessarily cause prejudice to the accused and only in circumstances where prejudice is deemed to be caused to the accused on account of delay, would proejceedings or the conviction be liable to be quashed.
In this respect, this case differs from the Jordan framework, in that the breach of the presumptive ceiling in Jordan is demmed to have caused prejudiced to the accused (not being a rebuttable presumption), and even in the absence of actual prejudice would not convert an unreasonable delay into a reasonable one.
B. Madheshwardhari Singh and Anr v. State of Bihar
In Madheshwardhari Singh
v. State of Bihar
, the full bench of the Patna High Court, referencing Hussainara, ruled that the right to speedy trial was not confined only to serious cases, and arguably took on added significance in cases such as Hussainara, wherein the accused awaiting trial for minor offences, languished in jail for periods longer than their sentence would have been had they been convicted.
Thus, the Patna High Court ruled that the gravity of the offence had no bearing on the expeditious conduct of trial. On a similar vein, in Jordan, the Supreme Court of Canada by way of illustration to elucidate the workings of the new framework, explained that a murder trial would not necessarily fall under the category of a sufficiently complex case to constitute exceptional circumstances to justify Crown delay.
Further, the High Court held that the right to speedy trial included both the police investigation and the subsequent adjudication in court.
Lastly, the High Court rejected the State’s argument that laying down an outer limit would be tantamount to legislation, and proceeded to set an outer limit of seven years for the conclusion of trial in offences other than capital ones.
Moreover, the Patna High Court added that even a delay of under seven years could still be deemed to cause prejudice to the accused’s constitutional right of speedy trial, with seven years merely representing the outermost time limit. Moreover, upon breach of the outer limit, the burden shifted to the State to prove that the delay was direct cause of the accused’s own actions, or was the result of such exceptional circmstnaces as to merit condonation.
The Jordan framework is arguably a crystallized version of this because it addresses two important aspects left unexplored by Madheshwardhari. First, it clarifies the exceptional circumstances which jusify prosecutorial delay. Second, while it too recognizes that delay below the ceiling can be unreasonable, it imposes on the defence the burden in the event of such a pleading to show that (i) it took meaningful steps to expedite proceedings and
(ii) proceedings took markedly longer than they reasonably should have.
C. Sheela Barse (II) and Others v. Union of India and Others
In Sheela Barse, a division bench of the Supreme Court introduced a numerical ceiling for proceedings involving children below the age of 16 years for offences punishable with imprisonment of not more than seven years. The Court laid down two ceilings: three months from the filing of the First Information Report for the completion of pre-trial investigation and six months for the completion of trial. A failure to do so would result in the prosecution being quashed. 
Thus, as evidenced by Madheshwardhariand Sheela Barse, the approach of Indian courts has been more ad hoc, wherein they had introduced a numerical ceiling for only certain categories of defendants or cases where the severity of punishment is lower, as opposed to the Jordan framework which applies unifromly to all criminal cases. The Jordan appraoch once again is arguably an improvement on the Indian approach because it affords the right to speedy trial to all defendants equally, and allows for easier application.
D. Abdul Rehman Antulay and Others v. R.S. Nayak and Another
The law on this matter as it currently stands is laid out in A. R. Antulay v. R.S. Naik
, where a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court declined to set an outer limit for quashing of proceedings and rejected the notion that without an outer limit, the right to speedy trial was elusive. Nevertheless, prior to reaching its decision, the Court highlighted that based on evidence, it was appropriate to conclude that the prosecution had not engaged in delaying tactics nor was it guilty of negligence, and that the delay of five years was a direct result of several interlocutory proceedings, coupled with the sheer volume of evidence.
The implicit meaning here is clear and similar to the explicit Jordan framework viz
. the cause of delay must be apportioned and prosecutorial delay condoned only in cases involving exceptional circumstances. Once again it is important to note the significance of interlocutory appeals. Barr observes that Canadian and Indian courts, following their British counterparts (unlike American courts) make extensive use of interlocutory appeals.
This further bolsters the argument in favour of adopting a framework similar to the one in Jordan, given the similar nature of the Indian and Canadian legal system originating from English practices.
Moreover, the Court proceeded to lay down factors such as the nature of the offence and accompanying circumstances, who the delay was attributable to, workload of the court and systemic institutional delay as some of the issues to be considered before deciding, as a question of fact, whether there had been inordinate delay in a particular case.
Recognizing that it was the duty of the State (which encompassed the judiciary) to ensure speedy trial, the Court reasoned that it was pragmatic to recognize realities such as courts operating below their sanctioned strength, frequent strikes by members of the bar, etc. as causes of delay. In this respect, Antulay differs sharply from Jordan in that the Supreme Court of Canada explicitly ruled out chronic institutional delay as a reason for justifying prosecutorial delay, in what it hoped would serve as a clarion call to the government to adequately fund and staff courts and the Crown’s office, and appoint more judges in order to alleviate the excessive delays that people had come to tolerate. It is also pertinent to note that in Antulay, the Court only cites external factors, largely beyond its control, as reasons for delay. Perhaps this might have been true for when Antulay was decided. However, recent studies of the Delhi High Court have shown that judges were absent at least once in 51% of delayed cases resulting in a loss of valuable working time. Further, allocation of inadequate time to hear cases caused delay in 25% of the cases.
While empirical data for other High Courts is not readily available, it is not difficult to imagine the situation is the same elsewhere. This serves to undercut the argument put forth by the Supreme Court in Antulay, and augments the reasoning in Jordan that each actor in the judicial system must work to reduce inefficiencies in their respective institutions, in order to achieve a legal system that works smoothly and upholds Constitutional mandates.
Antulay affirmed Madheshwardhari Singh and Anr.
v. State of Bihar
to the extent that the constitutional right of speedy trial flowing from Art. 21 found expression in s.309
read in conjunction with s. 482
of the CrPC.
It also affirmed Madheshwardhari by holding that the right to speedy trial extended to all stages of proceedings – investigation, trial and appeal. However, the Constitution Bench’s ruling in the present case rendered bad in law the time limits put in place in Madheshwardhari and Sheela Barse. Moreover, Antulay also overruled Sheela Barse with respect to the consequnces arising from inordinate delay. While in Sheela Barse the division bench had ordered proceedings and/or conviction to be quashed, in Antulay, the Constitution Bench ruled that it was also open to court to pass such appopriate orders to expedite trial or ensure conclusion within a specific period or to commute the sentences, if the matter came up post-conviction.
Thus, Antually differs fundamentally from the Jordan framework with respect to the lack of an outer time limit, and the automatic quashing of proceedings that would result if such limit were breached.
Antulay also differes significanty from the Jordan framework with respect to the presumption of prejudice to the accused in the face of undue delay. The Jordan framework deems the accused to be prejudiced in the event of a breach of the time ceiling. On the other hand, Antulay (perhaps correctly) recognizes that every delay does not necessarily prejudice the accused, and may in fact work to her advantage.
Neverthless, both the Joradan framework and the Antulay guidelines find common ground in clarifying that legitimate procedural requriments taken in good faith cannot be deemed to be a delaying tactic by either party.
E. “Common Cause” A Registered Society through its Director v. Union of India and Others
A division bench of the Suprme Court issued numerous directions with regards to the automatic quashing of proceedings or acquittal of the accused if pendency is more than more than the prescried period. The presribed period varied from one to two years depending on nature of the offence and punishment prescribed under the IPC.
F. Raj Deo Sharma v. State of Bihar
In Raj Deo Sharma, a three judge bench of the Supreme Court laid down an outer time limit of two years for the completion of trial for offences punishable for a period under seven years and a time limit of three years for offences where punishable for a period exceeding seven years. Further, in a similar vein to Jordan and the aforementioned Indian case law, delay attributable to the conduct of the accused would not oblige the State to end the prosecution, and exceptional circumstances in the interest of justice constituted the only valid ground for granting additonal time to proseuction in the event of breach of the outer time limit. The Court further added that this was in addition to the directions issued in Common Cause.
The Court considered the ratio of Antulay and felt its decision was in keeping with that by providng a mechanism for the effective enforcement of the right to speedy trial.
G. P. Ramachandra Rao v. State of Karnataka
The position in Antulay was reaffirmed by a seven judge bench of the Supreme Court in in Ramachandra Rao
. The Court declined to prescribe a period of limitation beyond which proceedings would be automatically terminated for two reasons. First, it was of the opinion that it was advisable to leave the time limit for trial of offences elastic and up to the determination of the court concerned based on the facts of each case, rather than imposing a rigid time frame; the test according to the Court was whether the trial had been pending for such a length of time that the delay could be deemed to be oppressive and unwarranted. Second, the majority reasoned that despite a liberal interpretation of Articles 21, 32
of the Constitution, such a directive would amount to legislation along the lines of the CrPC, and therefore, would be inappropriate for the Court to construct.
In consonance with its reasoning, the Court left the door open for Parliament to enact such a law. The court also overruled Common Cause and Raj Deo Sharma on the basis of the doctrine of stare decisis
, those decisions being contradictory to the Constitution Bench precedent in Antulay. The judges in declining to set a limitation period reasoned that the primary cause of delay was a poor judge-population ratio, and while a limitation period was intended to address the issue of arrears and delays, it would have adverse effects on access to justice and enable easy exit from justice by thwarting trial without adjudication on merits.
The ruling in Ramachandra, reflects the opinion of the dissenting (minority) in R.
in three ways. Firstly, the minority in Jordan held that while constitutional rights should be meaningful, the proposed ceilings had no basis in precedents which had laid down a balancing test to determine the reasonableness of delay.
Secondly, the minority further stated that despite the greatly expanded role of courts with the advent of judicial activism, their principal task was adjudicating conflicts and not performing legislative functions, and the laying down of a judicially imposed ceiling amounted to the same. 
Thirdly, the minority in Jordan argues that the proposed ceilings do less to concretize s. 11(b)
and more to undermine it by placing new limits on it for reasons of administrative efficiency. 
H. Recent Developments
Recent developments to expedite the pace of proceedings and address a long standing issue since Hussainara wherein accused languished in jails without bail, has caused a division bench of the Supreme Court to order High Courts to issue directions to subordinate courts to adjudicate bail applications within a week and where the accused was already in custody, to ensure completion of magisterial trial within six months and sessions trial (for offences punishable by more than seven years imprisonment) within two years. The Supreme Court also ordered that efforts should be made to dispose off cases pending for more than five years by the end of 2017. It what seems to be an effort to improve judicial discipline, the apex court also ordered High Courts to monitor performance of judicial officers, making expeditious disposal of cases one of the factors on the basis of which their performance was to be evaluated. The Supreme Court also recommended the framing of an annual action plan by each High Court, fixing a tentative time limit for the disposal of criminal trials in subordinate courts.
The Delhi High Court has also adopted independent initiatives such as penalising unnecessary court adjournments with a fine to enhance its functioning and better serve the interests of litigants.
In recent times, the Malimath Committee has suggested that cases pending for over two years should be considered delayed while the Jagannadha Rao Committee’s case management rules (endorsed by the Supreme Court) has suggested timelines for different case types, the upper ceiling of which is also set at two years.
The trend in Indian case law has been a series of progressive judgements by High Courts and smaller benches of the Supreme Court which greatly expanded prisoner’s rights on this front. This trend however, was halted the judgement in A.R. Antulay
v. R. S. Nayak
and P. Ramachandra Rao
v. Union of India.
The reducible element of the Indian Supreme Court’s reasoning in declining to set an outer time limit in Antulay and P. Ramachandra Raois that first, an across the board time limit would be excessively rigid and contrary to the demands of justice because it would fail to take into account several case specific factors and would presume that the defence was prejudiced by delay. Second, imposing such a time limit is a legislative function and not a judicial one.
The Jordan framework effectively addresses the issue of excessive rigidity that may accompany an outer limit on the conclusion on trial. Its flexibility lies in the manner in which it calculates delay. Deducting defence delay from the time taken in trial is the first step of the Jordan framework, thereby effectively addressing legitimate conerns that defendants may otherwise benefit from delay of their own causing. Further, while the delay is presumed to prejudice the interests of the defendant once the ceiling is breached i.e. determined to have not been caused by the defence’s own actions, the framework still permits the State to establish exceptional circumstances as the cause of delay. While these exceptional circumstnaces cannot be used to rebut the presumption of prejudice, they would prevent the automatic stay of proceedings which would have otherwise followed. What the framework does is shift the burden on the Crown to explain why the completion of trial has taken so long. Further, under the Jordan framework delay is deemed to prejude the accused. This too can also be attributed to the methology of calculating delay because once defnece delay is deducted, the breach of the ceiling can be wholly attributted to the Crown. The Indian Surpeme Court in Abdul Rehman Antulay and P. Ramachandra Rao calls upon courts to decide whether delay is attributatble to the defence or the prosecution as part of a larger balancing test involving other factors, as opposed Jordan which makes it a cornerstone of the new framework. The Jordan framework does not dispense with these numerous case specific factors; rather, it still carries out a balancing test of apportioning delay between the defence and the State, wherein case specific factors are crystallized and made subsurvient to actions of the two main parties to the proceedings. Thus, the Jordan framework does not represent as sharp a break from precedent as the minority opnion in it (similar to the opinion of the Indian Supreme Court in Antulay and Ramachadra Rao) protrays it to be. Lastly, the framework is flexible enough to prevent a miscarriage of justice by not unnecessarily hastening procedural requirements.
The Jordan framework if it were to be implemented in India would represent a departure from the justice system as we know it today in one particular way viz
. it would require the defence to actively participate in bringing its own client to trial, when traditionally the burden of brining the accused to trial in a reasonable time has rested on the State. Without demonstrable cooperation from the defendant, an application seeking proceedings to be quashed on the grounds of breach of the outer time limit would fail. The recent development in the Delhi High Court of penalizing unnecessary adjournments is a step in a similar direction. In the long run, any justice system can only function quickly and efficiently if all actors play their part and that includes the defence. This is the need of the hour in India, where the defence is notorious for seeking frivolous adjournments.
V. THE WAY FORWARD
The second reason of the Indian Supreme Court in declining to prescribe an outer time limit for trials is that such a time frame would be usurping legislative function. In P. Ramachandra Rao, the Court reasoned its role was limited to interpreting the law, laying down guidelines, principles and binding directions, declaring the law and filling in gaps in the law.
While it is not the scope of this article to examine whether such a bar should be introduced by way of judicial activism or by the legislative route, it is worthy of exploring how the judges in Jordan arrived at the outer limit of 18 months and 30 months for the conclusion of proceedings. As highlighted in Jordan itself, the majority arrived at these ceilings by performing a “qualitative review of…every s.11(b)
appellate decision from the past 10 years, and may decisions from the trial courts…[which] assisted in developing the definition of exceptional circumstances.”
While there is value in qualitative data for it affords us insight into the types of circumstances in which judges condoned delay, relying solely on it is a major flaw with the Jordan framework especially because it uses qualitative data for the very narrow purpose as stated above. An outer time limit whether judicially evolved or legislatively prescribed should be based on sound the analysis of quantitative data and should be implemented in a precise and prospective manner so as to prevent mass dismissal of cases, which would result in a grave miscarriage of justice.
Difficulty arises in ascertaining a time standard or a reference point beyond which a case is no longer considered as pending but as unreasonably delayed.
Instituting such an outer time limit would require a large scale quantitative data collection from across all levels of courts and would involve analysing trends in filing, disposal, pendency, duration, etc based on which the mean or median time taken for processing various types of cases can be calculated. Based on this calculation, and adding to it factors such as resource constraints, statutory standards and court cultures, the optimal time for completion of trial can be fixed. This quantitative data, combined with qualitative data based on interviews of various stakeholders in the justice system and an examination of the life cycle of sample cases
would together provide valuable insight into the state of the justice system and hence facilitate a more meaningful response. However, such a mammoth undertaking would require huge amounts of resources and for this reason alone (and not due to any apparent lack of authority of courts) perhaps might be better left to the legislature. Such a thematic approach could perhaps serve as an effective compromise between the blanket ceiling applied in Jordan and alleviate the Indian Supreme Court’s concerns about lack of flexibility of this approach by taking into account nuances of various categories of cases. Moreover, as was the original motive behind such an undertaking, such an exercise would also enable the computation of the requisite judge to population ratio that would be needed to reduce the backlog of cases in Courts and cope with new ones.
Another approach which could address the concerns of the Supreme Court would be adopting case-specific time tables at the outset of trial for the completion of each individual case. This approach lends itself well to implementation via the judicial route and can be adopted in the interim as it would not entail the vast amount of pre-implementation data processing of the thematic appraoch. Addressing the Supreme Court’s concerns in Antulay and P. Ramachandra Rao, this approach would enable courts to take into account case specific factors such as the nature and volume of evidence, the judge’s case load, etc before adopting an individualised timetable for the completion of trial. This would put all parties on notice of their expections and would serve as an effective benchmark to measrure the progress of trial. This would provide the requisite flexibility to individualise the pace of proceedings, while simultneously addressing systmetic concers over unreasonable delay.
Once again, the difference between such a case-specific appraoch and the Jordan framework is the manner in which they each calculate delay. The Jordan framework, as argued earlier, also effectively takes into account case specific factors, but it works backwards i.e. it sets an outer limit and then deducts the time taken due to defence delay and adds the time of prosecutorial delay. The case specific appraoch would take into account similar factors, and then proceeds to set an outer time limit for that particular case.
Jurisdictions such as the United States and (now) Canada have mandatory time frames for the completion of trial. Canada has adopted this via the judicial route, while the United States has the Speedy Trial Act, 1974. The United States Speedy Trial Act provides for time limits, subject to certain caveats, for the completion of not only of various steps of trial but also of the trial itself. For instance, it provides for indictment (i.e the framing of charges) within 30 days of arrest or service of summons, the commencement of trial within 70 days from indicment or the date of the defendants first appearance in court (whichever is later) or the commencement of trial within 90 days of arrest when the accused is in pretrial custody. It also provides for sanctions in the event of breach of such timeframe. Simialarly, while the CrPC also prescribes time limits for stages of the case (for instnace section 167 prescribes a time frame of 60 to 90 days after arrest for filing the chargeshet, and section 309 provides general directions for the conduct of trial on a day to day basis once examination of witnesses has begun), it does not provide an outer time limit for the completion of trial nor does it provide for when each step of the trial should be completed.
Considering that despite the aforementioned provisions of the CrPC having existed for a long time, delays in the criminal justice system have become systemic, thereby undermining the right to a speedy trial enshrined in Article 21. This renders either the enactment of a specialised Speedy Trial Act along similar lines as the United States necessary, or the incorporation of similar provisions in the CrPC. Such an outer time limit would force the Government and all stakeholders to address a culture of complacency that has become deep rooted in the Indian legal system.
Systemic delays in the completion of trial in Indian courts has become a cause of much worry and anxiety. This is not to say that timely trials are not possible in India, as evidenced by the speedy completion of those cases which receive intense media attention. However, the sheer scale of the problem in India is unparalleled in the world. This problem is further exacerbated in the higher judiciary with statistics from 2002-2012 revealing that the higher judiciary is disposing fewer cases than those that are being instituted, adding to the problem of arrears and backlog.
This article in no way means to suggest that the adoption of a framework akin to Jordan will be a panacea to all our problems. Nor would a blind application of the framework be suitable to India. India specific factors will need to be addressed when coming up with a framework that hopes to address the issue of arrears and delays. For instance, corruption in India is highly endemic and the Jordan framework is vulnerable to abuse in India if a wealthy defendant bribes the public prosecutor to conduct the trial slowly. Nevertheless, the Jordan framework represents one avenue to move forward with in order to tackle the mounting backlog of cases and to imbue true meaning into Article 21, to which so far we seem to be giving lip service. Perhaps, the institution of such a framework in conjunction with the various other recommendations of the Law Commission over the years will produce tangible and meaningful change.
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