New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday said that "drastic measures" are required to cut long delays in deciding criminal appeals, and contemplated a time frame for wrapping up non-heinous cases within a time limit.
A bench of Justices J Chelameswar and Sanjay K Kaul said that steps are required to ascertain criminal cases do not remain pending for decades, which compel the accused to remain behind the bar.
"Some drastic measures are required...there will be practical difficulties we understand but drastic steps will have to be taken," said the bench.
The Court noted that the oldest criminal appeal pending in the Allahabad High Court was 46-year-old.
A report submitted recently by the HC in the apex court had in fact disclosed that as many as 14 criminal appeals are pending for over four decades.
Senior advocate MN Rao, who is assisting the Court as amicus curiae in the matter, also rued that there seems to be no mechanism to deal with cases pending for long.
"Then there are judges and judges who keep on hearing a case for years together. They just don't decide. This is also a problem," Rao told the bench.
The bench was quick to reply: "But then there are also lawyers and lawyers who keep on arguing their cases and don't want to finish at all."
Justice Kaul then said that there could be a system to decide non-heinous cases within a time frame where the punishment is less than seven years in jail or so.
"There can be arguments on both sides about why cases are delayed. There could be something done for quick disposal of small cases...cases that don't involve heinous offences. This could be done in some way," said the bench.
About the protracted hearings, Justice Kaul remarked that disposal can be expedited if both the judges and the lawyers collectively and consciously take a call to speed up while ensuring fairness of the proceedings.
"Only increasing the number of judges may not help too much," he added.
The bench also ordered to release on bail two accused, whose counsel Dushyant Parashar had pointed out they had been in jail for 16 years, awaiting their appeals to be finally decided by the Allahabad HC.
It was in the context of these petitions that the top court had proceeded to examine long delays in hearing criminal appeals, and then sought a report from HC Registrar General.
Rao, who was appointed as amicus, said that the second report from the HC was still awaited, prompting the bench to adjourn the case by four weeks.