Tuesday, May 17, 2005

JUSTICE: How to expedite criminal cases

Here is a proposal to clear the huge number of pending criminal cases in lower courts and eliminate the long delays in their investigations. These are collectively the two major causes for delay in justice.
The criminal cases pending in the lower courts are far beyond the capacity of the present number of judges. Considering the costs of new buildings, furniture and fittings, court staff, office equipment and other expenses, the Government may never be able to provide enough new courts to clear the present backlog and avoid it in future. The delay in police investigation of criminal cases is another major cause for delay in justice.
To solve the two problems, we should create posts of Mobile Judges in every District. In principle, there may be a Mobile Judge in every Union area. There may be one judge for two or more Unions if the crime is low and more than one judge in a single Union with a high crime rate, especially in urban areas. A Mobile Judge must reside in his area of jurisdiction for easy access to the crime scenes.
The District Judge may allocate the present pending criminal cases of minor nature to the Mobile Judges for on the spot hearings. That will clear the backlog. In future, a Mobile Judge, on hearing about any new crime, will immediately visit the crime scene, inspect it and note his observations. Then he will hold an open court in the relevant Union Council office or some other neutral place. He will record statements of the complainant, the witnesses, the accused and all other relevant persons. He may complete the hearing of a case in a day or two. He can then move on to the next crime spot. He will not wait for the FIR of the police to start his work. Instead, he will get information about a crime from any source – the complainant or any other person. If the police has already arrested him, the judge may take the statement of any accused in the police station.
In cases involving maximum imprisonment of less than three years or a fine of Rs 100,000, the Mobile Judge will announce his judgment on the spot. He will then send the file to the District Judge to deal with appeals, if any. The police investigation may be necessary only if the Mobile Judge is unable to decide a case due to lack of sufficient evidence. He may hear the case again after receiving the police report.
In cases involving imprisonment of more than three years or a fine of more than Rs 100,000, the Mobile Judge will only send his investigation report to the District Judge, not pronounce a judgment. In such cases, he will also scrutinize the police investigation report to see that there are no lacunae and may require the police to meet the deficiencies.
The hearing of such a case in the district courts will start after the District Judge receives both the Mobile Judge report and the police challan. If there are discrepancies, the District Judge may ask them for clarification and resolution of differences. The preliminary proceedings having been already completed, the formal hearing of the case by a criminal judge will be easier and shorter.

Terms of service. The Mobile Judges will be selected from experienced local lawyers (who are qualified to be appointed as judges) or from retired judges. Newly recruited judges may also request to be appointed as Mobile Judges after serving for at least three to five years directly under the District Judge to have sufficient experience of the procedures. However, such a judge will have to resign his post as a permanent judge to be appointed as a Mobile Judge.
The appointment of a Mobile Judge will be on contract, renewable every three years. The Mobile Judge will be paid a lump sum that will cover everything, including his salary, house rent, all other allowances and facilities, lease payments for a vehicle, fuel and maintenance of the vehicle, salaries for his staff and TA/DA. As the judge will be always mobile, there will be no need for any courtroom for him. He may be transferred to any other place but only within the same district and only after completing at least five years at a place. There will be no transfer on complaints. If there are serious complaints of violating the law and procedure, showing deliberate bias, corruption or inefficiency, the District Judge may report to the High Court and recommend cancellation of his contract, rather than mere transfer.
The advantages of contract appointments will be as follows:
a) It will be easy to get rid of a Mobile Judge if he is inefficient or corrupt.
b) The Mobile Judge will hire and fire his own staff and be fully responsible for their performance and behavior.

The proposed arrangement will
a) clear the present backlog of pending criminal cases in the lower courts,
b) eliminate the accumulation of pending cases in future,
c) expedite hearing of cases involving minor crimes,
d) reduce the huge burden on the lower courts, and
e) cause a huge reduction in the cost of justice.

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