The Supreme Court has issued welcome guidelines to monitor the speedy disposal of cases against Members of Parliament (MPs) and Members of Legislative Assemblies (MLAs) who manage to stay above the law even after committing heinous crimes. The court has formulated a plan for the “expeditious disposal” of such cases and directed the chief justices of high courts to set up “special benches” to review and monitor the progress of criminal cases against lawmakers, giving priority to cases punishable with death or life imprisonment or a jail term of over five years. Some of the cases pending against the people’s representatives involve charges of rape and murder. It is not just the slow pace of justice that has kept the cases pending for years. Politicians have all the resources at their disposal to slow down cases and defeat the ends of justice.
There were as many as 5,175 cases pending against politicians in November 2022, of which 2,116 were more than five years old. UP accounts for the largest number (1,377) and the second and third positions are held by Bihar (546) and Maharashtra (482). The court issued its guidelines with the observation that the “confidence and trust of the constituency in their political representative” is necessary for the effective functioning of a parliamentary democracy. The court noted that every effort should be made to take up the cases on priority and to decide them expeditiously as they have an impact on our ‘’political democracy.’’ The court wants registration of suo moto cases by high court chief justices to monitor the quick disposal of cases, formation of special benches, and ensure regular listing and hearing of cases. Adjournments should be done only for exceptional reasons. It has also ruled that district and sessions courts should be directed to ensure speedy disposal of cases in their domains.
The court will have done a great service to the country if it can enforce its guidelines and ensure that criminal politicians, however high they are, are brought to book. But this is not the first time the court has taken an initiative for this. In 2017, it had ordered the setting up of special courts to fast-track cases against politicians. In 2018, the government had told the court that 12 such courts would be set up. In 2020, the court directed that all pending cases, then numbering about 4,000, should be cleared in a time-bound manner. But it is rare for a politician to be convicted and sent to jail for an offence, major or minor. The court should ensure that its guidelines do not go the way of earlier exercises.
(Published 12 November 2023, 18:29 IST)