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Supreme Court expresses shock at decades-old pending criminal appeals in High courts

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The Supreme Court on Wednesday expressed strong resentment over the pendency of criminal appeals reaching up to four decades in some High Courts of the country and issued notice to seven High Courts, seeking report over the same.

A Bench comprising Justice L. Nageswara Rao and Justice B.R. Gavai was apprised that in Madhya Pradesh High Court, appeals were pending for 20-30 years and the oldest appeal pending before the Allahabad High Court was from 1980.

The Supreme Court was told by way of a bail  application that appeals against conviction under Section 302 Indian Penal Code and sentence of life imprisonment passed by the Trial Court, were pending before the Allahabad High Court for a considerable period of time.

The Counsel further said  that the appellant had already undergone three years of imprisonment by the time he approached the Apex Court.

The top court of the country also issued notice to Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, while making him the Amicus Curiae in the case, along with Additional Solicitor General KM Nataraj.

The SC Bench, while observing that such pendency would affect the right to speedy trial protected under Article 21 of the Constitution,  directed the High Courts in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Odisha, to submit a plan of action for deciding the criminal appeals.

The Court listed some of the issues, which it sought the High Courts  to highlight in their affidavit.

The list includes:

a) Total number of convicts awaiting hearing of their appeals pending before them.

(b)Segregation of single judge and Division Bench matters;
c) The number of cases where – in such old pending cases, bail has been granted; (d)Steps proposed to expedite hearing of appeals, including steps to
prioritize hearing of cases of convicts in jail

(e) Steps proposed to trace and ensure hearing of cases of those who were granted bail, and the time timeline for starting hearings
(f) Appropriate use of information technology, such as digitization of appeal records/paper books
(g) Feasibility of creation of a dedicated pool of amicus curiae who would assist the court in such old matters
h) Feasibility to creation of dedicated special benches for hearing and disposal of old cases or alternatively assigning a certain number of appeals to a large number of judges to be decided by them, regardless of which rosters they are assigned.”

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