SC Orders Speedier Trials of Cases Against MPs, MLAs, ‘Constitute Special Benches’

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday (November 9) ordered the disposal of criminal cases against the members of legislative assemblies and Parliament and re-directed High Courts to initiate suo moto proceedings towards expeditious disposal of pending cases against elected legislators – MPs and MLAs – from their respective states. The respective High Court Chief Justices have been told to monitor the settlement of cases.

The SC has directed all HCs across the country to register cases on their own motion to monitor such trials and prioritize those cases that entail a death sentence or life imprisonment as maximum punishment. A guilty verdict in murder cases leads to either the death penalty or life term for the convicts.

A bench comprising Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, Justice JB Pardiwala, and Justice Manoj Misra observed that it was difficult for the Supreme Court to lay down uniform guidelines applicable across the States and left it to the High Courts to evolve such measures for effective monitoring of such cases by invoking its powers under Article 227.

The court was hearing a petition filed by advocate Ashwini Upadhyay in 2016, seeking suitable directives for fast-tracking criminal trials against sitting and former MPs and MLAs and for the establishment of special courts to decide criminal cases related to public servants and members of the judiciary “within one year… and to debar convicted persons” from holding posts in legislative, executive and/or judicial bodies “for life”.

The PIL referred to High Courts’ data to point out that 5,175 cases against MPs and MLAs are still pending, of which 40 per cent, or 2,116, have been open for at least five years.

On the petitioners’ first request, a bench led by Supreme Court Chief Justice DY Chandrachud left it to the High Courts of each state (in which the case is being heard) to monitor developments.

The court observed that it would be difficult to frame uniform guidelines.

The hearing for the second – regarding the electoral ban on convicted persons – will continue.

By a judgment in a separate case in 2014, the top court had ordered that trials against elected lawmakers be completed within a year of charges being framed.

The plea also asked no adjournments be given “except in rare and exceptional circumstances”, and that in case of delays bail be cancelled. Trial courts have now been told not to adjourn cases unless necessary.

The plea was made in the context of a 2015 judgment by the Supreme Court, which said: “… in relation to sitting MPs and MLAs, who have charges framed against them… the trial shall be concluded speedily… and, in no case, later than one year from date of framing of charge(s)”.

The court had also said: “… as far as possible, the trial shall be on a day-to-day basis. If, for some extraordinary circumstances, the court is not able to conclude the trial within one year… (it will) submit a report to Chief Justice of respective High Court, indicating reasons for not adhering to time limit…”

Earlier, in compliance with a Supreme Court order in this case, various High Courts had reported the number of pending cases (as of December 2018 and November 2022) against MPs and MLAs, reports NDTV.

According to these numbers, the maximum number of such pending cases are found in Uttar Pradesh.

According to a report by NDTV, there were 992 unresolved cases in 2018. Last year this number was 1,377, and 719 of these had been undecided for over five years. Among the larger states, others with such high numbers are Bihar; there were 546 pending cases as of November, and 381 have been in limbo for over five years.

Odisha has the dubious distinction of having 323 such pending cases, followed by Maharashtra with 169, Tamil Nadu with 60, Karnataka with 61, Madhya Pradesh with 51, and Jharkhand with 72 such cases awaiting trial and closure.