4. Judicial delays to criminal trials in Delhi

Judicial delay to criminal trials in the courts of Delhi is endemic. It does not need any empirical data to prove. The objective of the present study is to understand its scope and causes.

The study is confined to trials in criminal cases pending before all 135 criminal courts in Delhi, including those heard by both additional sessions judges and metropolitan magistrates. It does not include time taken in criminal appeals. Generally a criminal appeal lies with the high court in cases decided before sessions courts, while cases before metropolitan magistrates are appealed in sessions courts. There are certain statutory limitations on the right of appeal.

The present study has taken into account only those matters that were on the cause lists of the courts on a single typical working day, 16 November 2007. These cause lists are not comprehensive. Generally, there are certain matters that are left out inadvertently by the court staff, and such matters are added subsequently during the day when a party points out the same. Besides, there are certain additional matters that are handled in the courts but not listed in the cause lists, including fresh applications filed by the parties for miscellaneous purposes, acceptance of sureties in cases where bail is granted by the courts, and production of newly-arrested persons for extension of police or judicial remand. The actual workload of the criminal courts is thus more than what has been recorded here.

In two courts out of the 135, the cause list used was dated 20 November 2007. This is because one court of an additional sessions judge at Tis Hazari did not have a cause list for November 16 while that of a metropolitan magistrate at the same complex had many matters listed without information about the year that the offence was committed. November 20 was also a normal working day.

The cause lists prepared by the criminal courts in Delhi generally divide the matters according to the purpose for which the matter has been listed on a particular date. The division is generally made as follows: Miscellaneous matters; charge; prosecution evidence; statement of accused; defence evidence; final arguments; and, final order or judgment. The cause list of a Delhi criminal court typically has the following columns: serial number; case number assigned by the court; cause title; First Information Report (FIR) number, its year and the name of the police station where it was made; and, provisions of law.

This same division has been used for this study, with numbers tabulated on the basis of year of registration of offence as per information provided in FIR column of the cause list. In this respect, it is pertinent to mention that the court-assigned number generally does not give accurate idea about how long a case has been pending as it is changed as and when the case is transferred from one court to another. However, the year given in the FIR column gives the year of registration of offence and, therefore, can generally be taken as the year that an offence was committed. The same cannot be done where criminal proceedings have been instituted on private complaints, which have no FIR. In these cases this study has been obliged to take the year that an offence was committed as the year of the case number assigned by the courts, which requires the assumption that these cases have continued in the same court since institution in the same year that the offence was committed.

Finally, for the purpose of analysis, all the criminal appeals and criminal revision petitions listed before the additional sessions judges have been taken as miscellaneous matters, as the present study focuses on criminal trial only.

Overview of the courts of additional sessions judges in Delhi

Under the CrPC an additional sessions judge has jurisdiction and powers equivalent to a sessions judge. The judge’s work includes trial of serious cases such as death, murder and rape, which are committed for trial in the sessions courts by magistrates, and the hearing of criminal appeals and revisions against orders passed by metropolitan magistrates. The cause list of an additional sessions judge in Delhi also contains criminal appeals and criminal revision petitions. A sessions judge or additional sessions judge has powers to award any sentence authorized by law, but a sentence of death must be confirmed in the high court.

On the day under study the 43 courts of additional sessions judges in Delhi had 531 criminal matters listed before them, or an average of 12.35 matters per court per day. Out of these, 213 pertained to miscellaneous proceedings, criminal appeals and criminal revision petitions, while 318 were listed for conducting trials. In other words, on an average working day, approximately 40.11 per cent of the matters listed before the courts of additional sessions judges, or 4.95 matters per court per day, are not for the purpose of trial. Of the remaining percentage, trial is often not conducted for various reasons ranging from the absence of witnesses to paucity of time.

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Breaking down the 318 matters listed for trial before additional sessions judges, 184 or 57.86 per cent were listed for the purpose of recording prosecution evidence while the remaining 134 were for various other purposes like framing of charge (58), recording the statement of the accused (20), recording of defence evidence (13), final arguments (33), and final order (10). Framing of charge constituted approximately 18.24 per cent of all matters.

An analysis of the data according to the year that a crime was committed gives the most revealing picture about the extent of delays in criminal justice administration in Delhi and may be taken as representative of the state of criminal cases pending in the courts. From this data, it may be said that approximately 67.29 per cent of the pending criminal trials are one to five years old, approximately 12.26 per cent six to 10 years old, 4.08 per cent 11-15 years old, and around 2.20 per cent pending for more than 15 years. On the day under study, the courts in Delhi had three matters fixed for trial that pertained to crimes committed more than 19 years ago. At the same time, a mere 14.15 per cent of the matters listed were coming up for trial in the same year as the offence.Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 10.56.08 AM

Charge

The cause lists of the additional sessions courts had 58 matters listed before them for the purpose of framing charge. The cause lists reveal that one criminal case pertaining to the year 1996 was listed on that day for framing of charge. Only 19 out of 58

cases pertaining to the current year had reached this beginning stage of trial. This means that the sessions courts in Delhi take more than one year to start trial in around 67.24 per cent of criminal cases. Additionally, 55.17 per cent of total matters fixed for this purpose were one to five years old while 10.34 per cent were pending for six to ten years.

Prosecution evidence

The cause lists had 184 matters listed before them for the purpose of recording prosecution evidence. The cause lists reveal that two criminal cases pertaining to the years prior to 1990 were listed on that day. Only 22 out of 184 cases pertaining to the current year had reached this stage of trial while another 37 criminal cases pertained to 2006.

The data show that 70.10 per cent of the matters fixed for prosecution evidence were pending for one to five years, 9.78 per cent for six to 10 years, 5.43 per cent for 11-15 years, and 2.71 per cent were pending for more than 15 years. This means that around 88.04 per cent of criminal cases pending for recording of prosecution evidence before the sessions courts in Delhi remain at this stage of trial a year after the offence has been committed, while approximately 67.93 per cent may continue to be at this stage of trial more than two years after.

Statement of accused

The cause lists of the additional sessions courts had 20 matters listed before them for the purpose of recording statements of accused persons. The cause lists reveal that one criminal case pertaining to the year 1993 was listed on that day. By contrast, not a single case pertaining to the current year had reached this stage of trial.

Defence evidence

The cause lists had 13 matters listed before them for the purpose of recording defence evidence on 16 November 2007. One criminal case pertaining to the year 1991 was listed on that day. They show that 69.23 per cent of the cases listed for this purpose were pending for one to five years while the remaining five cases pertained to the period of more than five years. No case pertaining to the current year had reached this stage of trial.

Final arguments

The cause lists of the additional sessions courts had 33 matters listed before them for final arguments. The lists reveal that one criminal case pertaining to a year prior to 1990 was listed on that day while 21 cases were pending for a period of between one to five years, and 10 cases for more than five years after the commission of offence. It is interesting to see that two cases

pertaining to the current year had also reached this stage of trial. These two cases are completely against the trend and would deserve close study to see how they reached this stage so quickly.

Judgment

The cause lists of the Additional Sessions courts of Delhi had ten matters listed before them for pronouncement of judgments. One case pertaining to the current year had reached this stage of trial, again, making it a subject for special study. The rest of the matters listed before the courts were in conformity with the trend of delay. The data showed that one case listed for this purpose pertained to the year 2001, meaning that the case had taken six years. The cause lists also revealed that 90 per cent of cases listed for the purpose on that day had taken more than two years after the offence was committed to reach a conclusion. It is also appears that 80 per cent of the cases had taken a period of one to five years to complete.

Overview of the courts of magistrates in Delhi

Delhi was declared a metropolitan area by a notification under section 8(1) of the CrPC with effect from 1974. Accordingly, it does not have judicial magistrates ranked first or second-class. The judicial magistrates functioning in Delhi are all conferred with the powers of metropolitan magistrates. Similarly, the courts of the chief metropolitan magistrate and those of the additional chief metropolitan magistrates have powers equivalent to the chief judicial magistrates of non-metropolitan areas under the CrPC.

The chief metropolitan magistrate, the additional chief metropolitan magistrates and the metropolitan magistrates are subordinate to the sessions judges. The chief metropolitan magistrate can award any sentence authorized by law other than a sentence of death, imprisonment for life or imprisonment for a term exceeding 7 years. A metropolitan magistrate can impose a sentence of a term not exceeding 3 years and fine not exceeding 10,000 rupees or both.

Delhi has one chief metropolitan magistrate, five additional chief metropolitan magistrates and 86 metropolitan magistrates; 92 in total. The chief metropolitan magistrate holds his court at the Tis Hazari Courts Complex, which also houses two courts of additional chief metropolitan magistrates. The Karkardooma, Patiala House and Rohini court complexes have one additional chief metropolitan magistrate each.

The metropolitan magistrates look after the work of about 136 police stations across Delhi, and most look after cases pertaining to more than one station. There are eight courts at the magistrate’s level dealing exclusively with matters pertaining to women, and some courts deal exclusively with cases relating to the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881.

The office of the chief metropolitan magistrate, apart from its judicial and administrative work, also covers the special metropolitan magistrates (traffic) having their courts at eight different places in Delhi. These magistrates handle all the traffic cases for Delhi by disposing of the challans issued by traffic police against offenders.

The chief metropolitan magistrate also exercises administrative control over the special metropolitan magistrates and municipal magistrates who look after offences pertaining to littering, sanitation and public health.

The offices of the chief metropolitan magistrate and additional chief metropolitan magistrates together handle the work of summons, production warrants, bailable and non-bailable warrants, recovery warrants, detention orders, parole, transit remands etc., received from different states of India and get the same prepared according to the requirements of the processes at the earliest possible time. They also handle complaints and transfer applications received directly from the magistrates and the litigants regarding pending cases.

When it comes to pending cases before the metropolitan magistrates of Delhi, the situation is appalling: on 16 November 2007 one of the matters listed before an additional chief metropolitan magistrate in the Patiala House Courts Complex pertained to an offence registered in 1974. Aside from this one case, there were a further 6800 criminal matters listed before the courts. This means that on average a metropolitan magistrate in Delhi is expected to handle approximately 74 matters per day. As has been mentioned earlier, in addition to these, there are many other affairs that the courts deal with daily that are not recorded on the cause lists.

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It is significant that out of these 6801 matters, 4771 pertained to miscellaneous proceedings, while the remaining 2030 were listed for trial. In other words, on an average working day, approximately 70.15 per cent of the matters listed before metropolitan magistrates are not for the purpose of trial at all.

Another important fact is that 3736 matters, 55 per cent, pertained to section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881 alone. In this regard, according to official statistics of 30 September 2007 noted above out of all matters pending before magistrates in Delhi, those under section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act were 381,745 out of the total of 637,997, an even higher figure of 59.83 per cent of all cases. Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act pertains to the dishonouring of cheques due to insufficient funds in a drawer’s account. The offence under this provision of law does not require mens rea, that is, knowledge of wrongdoing. Therefore, it is not an offence in conventional terms and the overload of these cases on the criminal justice system is a consequence of the failure of the civil justice system in India.

Cases under section 138 were transferred to the courts of metropolitan magistrates only in 2004. Earlier, these matters were being filed in the courts of additional sessions judges. In section 138 cases, evidence is taken on affidavit and the opposite party has a right to cross-examine the deponent or witness. This simple procedure for filing of evidence has allowed the magistrates’ courts to list a larger number of matters for recording of prosecution evidence than would otherwise be the case. It is also significant that in most of these matters, the parties settle the dispute before conclusion of trial.

Of the 2030 matters listed for criminal trial, 1200 were listed for the purpose of recording prosecution evidence while the remaining 830 were listed for various other purposes like framing of charge, recording of the statement of accused, recording ofScreen Shot 2015-12-17 at 11.02.03 AM

defence evidence, final arguments, and final order. Therefore, approximately 59 per cent of the matters listed for trial were listed for recording prosecution evidence. This percentage is almost equal to that of the matters listed before additional sessions judges for this purpose on the same day. Another major part of the trial matters pertained to framing of charge, at 16.50 per cent.

Again, it is the year-by-year breakdown of cases that is most illuminating about the delays in Delhi courts: 13 magistrates on 16 November 2007 had matters fixed for trial relating to crimes dating to more than 19 years ago.

If we take the matters listed for trial on the relevant day as representative of the criminal cases pending trial in Delhi, we find that approximately 50.64 per cent of the pending criminal trials are between one to five years old, approximately 21.08 per cent six to ten years old, 6.89 per cent 11-15 years old, and around 1.13 per cent pending for more than 15 years. A mere 20.24 per cent of the matters have come up for trial in the same year.

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Charge

The cause lists of the metropolitan magistrates had 335 matters listed before them for the purpose of framing of charge or issuance of notice. In the summons procedure of criminal trial, court issues notice to the accused persons instead of framing a formal charge.

The cause lists reveal that one criminal case pertaining to a year prior to 1990 was listed on that day for framing of charge. Only 62 out of 335 cases pertaining to the current year had reached this beginning stage of trial, or only 18.50 per cent of criminal cases at this stage of trial before the metropolitan magistrates in Delhi, while approximately 81.50 per cent of cases on charge had taken more than one year, and approximately 61.19 per cent had taken more than two years, while 10.74 per cent had been pending for a period between six to 10 years and 2.98 per cent for a period between 11 to 15 years.

Prosecution evidence

The matters listed for recording of prosecution evidence are huge in number. The cause lists had 1200 matters listed before them for the purpose of recording prosecution evidence on 16 November 2007 alone, of which five criminal cases pertaining to the years prior to 1990 were listed. Only 249 out of the 1200 cases, or 20.75 per cent, were pertaining to the year of 2007. Furthermore, 48.50 per cent of the cases listed were pending for a period between one to five years, 24 per cent from six to 10 years, 5.92 per cent for 11 to 15 years, and 0.83 per cent for more than 15 years.

Statement of accused

The cause lists had 97 matters listed before the magistrates for the purpose of recording statements of accused persons. The cause lists reveal that one criminal case pertaining to a year prior to 1990 was listed on the studied day while there was alsoone case from 1990. Fourteen cases pertaining to the current year had reached this stage of trial. The data reveals that approximately 46.39 per cent of cases pending at this stage of trial pertained to cases registered between one to five years ago. The cases pending between six to 10 years were 24.74 per cent, and 12.37 per cent of the total cases were pending for a period between 11 to 15 years.

Defence evidence

Thirty-six matters were listed for the purpose of recording defence evidence. One criminal case pertaining to a year prior to 1990 was among them, while another seven cases pertained to the period where the offence had been registered more than ten years ago. In sum, 47.22 per cent of the matters listed for this purpose were pending for a period between one to five years, 16.66 per cent for six to ten years, and a further 16.66 per cent for a period more than ten years.

Final Arguments

The cause lists of the metropolitan magistrates had 292 matters listed before them for final arguments. Five criminal cases pertaining to the years prior to 1990 were listed on November 16 for final arguments, while there were 64 cases from 2007, or 21.91 per cent. Although this figure sounds high, on enquiry it was found that 45 out of these 64 cases were in the four courts exclusively dealing with cases of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881. The data reveals that 42.80 per cent of the cases listed for this purpose were pending for a period between one to five years, 21.57 per cent for six to 10 years, 10.96 per cent for 11 to 15 years and, 2.73 per cent for more than 15 years.

Judgment

The cause lists of the courts of metropolitan magistrates had 70 matters listed before them for pronouncement of judgments on the relevant day. Nine matters pertained to cases in which the offence was registered more than 10 years ago. The cause lists also reveal that 47.14 per cent of cases listed on that day were pending for a period between one to five years, 27.14 per cent for six to 10 years, and 4.28 per cent for more than 15 years. Around 21.43 per cent pertained to the current year. Again, this number is quite high and contrary to the trend and deserves deeper enquiry. However, from preliminary observation it can be said that some magistrates are now taking extraordinary efforts to dispose of cases expeditiously.

Conclusion

The cause lists show that delay has become a matter of routine in Delhi. Magistrates in Delhi have on average 13 matters listed per court for recording of evidence. It is impossible to record evidence for such a large number of cases in a single day. Recording of evidence is the most time consuming process in a criminal trial, yet still the courts have listed such large numbers of cases for this purpose, which explains why the adjourning of cases has become the norm in Delhi courts.

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