Process should not become the punishment, keeping people behind the bars can’t be the solution: SC judge SK Kaul

Justice Kaul advised Trial Court Judges to handle bail pleas with urgency

Process should not become the punishment, keeping people behind the bars can’t be the solution: SC judge SK Kaul

On July 31, 2022, Supreme Court Judge Sanjay Kishan Kaul delivered a speech at the valedictory ceremony of the First All India District Legal Services Authorities Meet, encouraging all the subordinate judiciary to deal with the bail pleas with urgency otherwise in his opinion even 500 years would not be enough to see an end to the issues of pendency of cases.

According to LiveLaw, Justice Kaul said, “The sheer volume of pendency to my mind is creating an impediment. If every case has to be tried till the end; every first appeal has to be heard by the courts; if every matter transcends itself to come into the Supreme Court, why 200 years, 500 years we will also not see the end of this litigation.”

As reported by The Hindu, as of May 2022, over 4.7 crore cases are pending in courts across different levels of the judiciary. Of them, 87.4% are pending in subordinate courts, 12.4% in High Courts while nearly 1,82,000 cases have been pending for over 30 years.

During the Monsoon Session of the Parliament, Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament Shri Neeraj Shekhar asked about the details pertaining to the pending cases in High Courts. The answer given by Minister of Law and Justice, Shri Kiren Rijiju reveals that out of 17,37,701 cases filed in 2021, as any as 14,41,136 were disposed of, meaning that just under 3 lakh cases remained pending at the end of 2021. Next, as on June 30, 2022, out of 9,36,035 cases filed till then in 2022, as many as 8,58,589 have been disposed of so far in the high courts. The Ministry’s answer further reveals a very concerning number of 59,66,274 pending cases (both civil and criminal) in the High courts in total, which includes cases accumulated over the years and carried forward.

A copy of the Parliament Question may be viewed here: 

Coming back to Justice Kaul’s speech, the legal luminary delved into the role of the Legal Services Authorities, and said that legal assistance should not be idealistic but practical. He reportedly stated, “Acquittal is one aspect. His case should go for remission, is another. These two are mutually exclusive. Sometimes you know there is no merit in appeal but you pursue to bring quietus. Going on the remission side would be efficient.”

Courts on frivolous litigation

In the case of Properties Pvt. Ltd. V. Chetan Kamble (2022) SCC OnLine SC 246, a three-judge Supreme Court bench of CJI NV Ramana, AS Bopanna and Hima Kohli had observed, “Although the jurisprudence of Public Interest Litigation has matured, many claims filed in the Courts are sometimes immature. Thousands of frivolous petitions are filed, burdening the docket of both this Court and the High Courts. Noble intentions behind expanding the Court’s jurisdiction to accommodate socially relevant issues, in recent decades, have been critically analyzed. In our view, PIL litigation has had a beneficial effect on the Indian jurisprudence and has alleviated the conditions of the citizens in general. For those at the receiving end of the Court’s directions, we can only advise “C’est la vie”.”

Then again in June 2022, terming a petition filed “in the public interest” as frivolous, the vacation bench of the Supreme Court, said the state cannot be prevented from making necessary arrangements to provide basic facilities to lakhs of devotees visiting the temple and construction activity being carried out by the Odisha government at the famed Shree Jagannath temple in Puri is necessary in larger public interest. The vacation bench of Justices BR Gavai and Hima Kohli rejected the PIL filed by Andhendu Das (Ardhendu Kumar Das vs State of Odisha, 2022) and imposed a fine of Rs. 2 lakh on the appellants.

The bench observed, “We are of the view that the present proceedings are a luxury litigation by warring groups to grab control over the management of the Trust. We deprecate this practice of filing such luxury litigation.”

Last month, the Bombay High Court reprimanded a Pune resident, seeking second review of the court’s earlier decision, stating that the petition was without merit and constituted abuse of process and law. A penalty of Rs. 1 lakh was imposed on the petitioner, reported LiveLaw. The court reportedly stated, “Since 2009, till date valuable time of this Court had been consumed by the petitioner by filing frivolous litigation. This is a classic example of abuse of process of Court as well as law, wherein, the petitioner has left no stone unturned to abuse the process not only by preferring second review which is not tenable in law, but also by filing multiple proceedings before different Courts. The petitioner had suppressed pendency of Writ Petition in the Supreme Court before this Court and, therefore, he can be said to be guilty of suppressing of material facts, which also amounts to abuse of process of Court as well as of law.”

The Court further held, “Such tendencies need to be nipped in the bud by imposing exemplary costs. Such elements cannot be permitted to take the system for a ride by filing unmerited multiple proceedings and to drag the proceedings endlessly.”

With the aim of relieving the higher judicial fora from additional burden, Justice Kaul suggested that the litigation should be closed at the first stage itself. According to him, the accused persons must be made aware of the plea-bargaining and mediation mechanism, as they are more likely to take that option, rather than insisting on seeking acquittal.

LiveLaw further quoted Justice Kaul as saying, “Truly if asked and if they have been actually guilty of the offence whether proven or not, they according to me would be more than willing to go through a plea-bargaining. But the system has not been able to guide them or make them aware of plea-bargaining. It is necessary that the judges and the defence system that is now being set up consciously make available this plea-bargaining mechanism and make them aware of it. This is one aspect. Along with plea bargaining is also mediation.”

In his speech, he expressed his concern over the judicial process and stated that the process should not be the punishment. In his opinion, keeping people behind bars is not the solution and this mindset of the prosecution needs to be changed. According to him, the members of the judiciary get easily influenced by the prosecution’s mindset.

He further suggested adopting a different approach for less heinous and more heinous offences. In his opinion, offences of seven years and less or even those up to 10 years can be in one category and new techniques can be applied to put an end to these matters at the earlier stages, so that the judges can concentrate on the life sentence cases and those involving more heinous offences, reported LiveLaw.

He further pointed out how our judicial system does not have sufficient time to prosecute for perjury if any witness lies at the witness box. He drew an example from other jurisdictions where the consequences are so harsh that even the most eminent persons would not dare to lie in the witness box.

He expressed his concern over the loss of precious judicial time as the criminal justice system fails to close the litigation in some cases at the very first stage by offering compensation as provided in the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC). Finally, the parties agree to settle when the cases go up to the Supreme Court. Had such compensation been offered to the victims at the initial stage, time would have been saved. He reportedly said, “I agree, there has to be a realisation of the victimology principle. I also believe that there is a responsibility towards the victim. In some cases, suppose of hurt or grievous hurt after passage of time they settle; compensation is the methodology. The procedure of compensation is available, but the question is do we utilise it.”


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