Speedy justice

The Supreme Court’s ruling that proceedings against MPs and MLAs in cases of corruption and criminal offences should be expedited and the trial completed within an year is yet another step towards keeping the legislatures free of such elements.

It is a logical extension of last year’s landmark judgment that prescribed immediate disqualification from membership of the legislature of those convicted on such charges. This would again not please the political class, as seen by the responses to last year’s judgment.

The union cabinet had tried to nullify the judgment but public mood and Rahul Gandhi’s controversial intervention had forced it to stop in its tracks. But the effectiveness of the judgment was still being questioned because most such cases lingered on for years.

The purpose of the earlier judgment would have been defeated if cases under the Representation of People Act were not settled in reasonable time. Though speedy justice is the right of every citizen, such cases involve greater public interest because the conduct and image of people’s representatives have a bearing on the working of legislatures and the quality of the democratic system.

According to the ruling, cases have to be heard on a day-to-day basis and the chief justice has to be appraised of the reasons for delay if the cases are not decided within one year. This will hopefully ensure a speedy decision. Parliament and state Assemblies have many members who are facing serious charges.

Parties are known even to favour candidates with a criminal past to fight elections because they seem to have a better chance to win elections than others. There are such candidates likely to be fielded by parties in the next Lok Sabha elections also. The judgment should serve as a warning to them because disqualification within an year will deplete the strength of parties in the next Lok Sabha where each seat is likely to be important.

The infrastructure in courts will have to be improved to facilitate speedy trials in all cases. Judicial despatch is also needed in the handling of another class of cases related to elections. Election petitions drag on for years and there are many cases where the judgment becomes infructuous because of the expiry of the term of the House during the course of the case. They should also be decided in a time-bound manner.

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