Alarm at criminal appeals pending in High Courts for decades; Supreme Court seeks suggestions from the Centre

The Supreme Court in the case Khursheed Ahmad v. State of Uttar Pradesh sought suggestions from the Union Government to tackle pendency by Expressing an alarm at the pendency of criminal appeals in High Courts for over three to four decades.

The Supreme Court observed in an order dated 15th June, 2020:

Criminal appeals which have been pending for over twenty years- and up-to thirty years are 33,045. 2,35,914 are criminal appeals which have been pending for over ten years, up to 20 years and according to the data available from the website of the National Judicial Data Grid1 the total number of criminal appeals in such High Courts which have been pending for 30 years or more is 14484.

Thereafter the court observed that in total 14,112 appeals pending before the Single Judge and 13192 appeals before the Division Bench. In total, 27304 appeals pending from 1980 to 2020 and on average there are 200+ appeals in the year 1982 – 1991.

The Bench comprising of Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and the justice M.M. Sundresh has already aid down some broad parameters that can be adopted by the High Court in granting bail and it is to note that looking at the pendency of the criminal appeals in the Allahabad High Court and its reluctance to grant bail to the accused in the interim period.

Article 21 of the Constitution, which protect the right to speedy trial will be affected by considering such pendency’s. to submit a plan of action for deciding the criminal appeals, the Court had directed the High Courts before which a barrage of such cases is pending for a considerable period of time some of the issues have been pointed out on including the High Courts in the State UP, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Patna, Rajasthan, Bombay and Orissa which should be highlighted by these High Courts in an Affidavit:

• hearing total number of convicts awaiting of their appeals pending before them.

• single judge and Division Bench matters segregation.

• including steps to prioritize hearing of cases of convicts in jail, Steps proposed to expedite hearing of appeals

• the timeline for starting hearings and Steps proposed to trace and ensure hearing of cases of those who were granted bail.

• as digitization of appeal records/paper books an appropriate use of information technology.

Disposing of old cases or alternatively assigning a certain number of appeals to a large number of judges to be decided by them, regardless of which rosters they are assigned and Feasibility to creation of dedicated special benches for hearing. Justice Rao observed the constitution of separate Special Benches was also suggested but he opined that each High Court already has separate Benches to criminal appeals and there is no need for a special designated court as Every High Courts have a separate criminal appeal bench.

The Bench comprising of Justice L. Nageswara Rao and the justice B.R. Gavai was apprised the oldest appeals pending before the Allahabad High Court are from the year 1980 and that in Madhya Pradesh High Court there are appeals which are pending for 20-30.

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