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Supreme Court talks tough: ‘Don’t adjourn rape cases at the drop of a hat’

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DelhiGangrape_Protests_AP_25DecJ VENKATESAN IN THE HINDU

All Sessions courts should hold daily trial and complete the whole exercise in two months.Within a few days of the gruesome December 16 assault in the Capital, the Supreme Court has directed all Sessions courts in the country to conduct rape trials daily and complete the process in two months from the date of commencement of examination of witnesses.

“In particular, when examination of witnesses has begun, it shall be continued from day to day until all witnesses in attendance have been examined, unless the court finds adjournment beyond the following day necessary for reasons to be recorded,” said a Bench of Justices Swatanter Kumar (who has since assumed charge as Chairperson of the National Green Tribunal) and Ibrahim Kalifulla.

The Bench, referring to regular adjournments being sought, said: “We are distressed to note that it is almost a common practice and regular occurrence that trial courts flout the said command with impunity. Even when witnesses are present, cases are adjourned on far less serious reasons or even on flippant grounds.”

Adjournments were granted for the asking, quite often to suit the convenience of the advocate, the Bench said. “We make it clear that the legislature has frowned upon granting adjournments on that ground. At any rate, inconvenience of an advocate is not a ‘special reason’ for bypassing the mandate of Section 309 of the Cr.PC [power to court to adjourn proceedings].”

The Bench directed all High Courts to issue circulars to subordinate courts to strictly adhere to the prescribed procedure to ensure speedy trial and also rule out any manoeuvring taking place by granting an undue, long adjournment for the mere asking. “When witnesses of a party are present, the court should make every possible endeavour to record their evidence and they should not be called back again. Work fixation of the court should be so arranged as not to direct the presence of witnesses whose evidence cannot be recorded. Similarly, cross-examination should be complete immediately after the examination-in-chief and, if need be, within a short time thereafter. No long adjournment should be allowed.”

The Bench said: “We hope and trust that the High Courts would take serious note of the directions issued in the decisions reported in the Rajdeo Sharma case, which has been extensively quoted and reiterated in the subsequent decision of this court reported in the Shambhu Nath case, and comply with the directions at least in the future years. In this respect, the High Courts will also be well advised to use their machinery in the respective State Judicial Academy to achieve the desired result.

Don’t blame tools

The Bench said: “It is no justification to glide on any alibi by blaming the infrastructure for skirting the legislative mandates embalmed in Section 309 of the Code. A judicious judicial officer who is committed to his work could manage with the existing infrastructure for complying with the legislative mandates. The precept in the old homily that a lazy workman always blames his tools is the only answer to those indolent judicial officers who find fault with the defects in the system and the imperfections of the existing infrastructure for their tardiness in coping with such directions.”

The Bench was dismissing an appeal filed by Akil alias Javed and Murslim, who were awarded life imprisonment in a case of robbery and causing the death of Salvinder. The appeal was directed against a Delhi High Court judgment, which confirmed the trial court order.


  • It is almost a common practice that trial courts flout command with impunity
  • Advocate’s inconvenience is no ‘special reason’ for bypassing mandate of Section 309 Cr.PC

Relevant Portion of the Judgement

……..

We have referred to the above legal position relating to the extent of reliance that can be placed upon a hostile witness who was not declared hostile and in the same breath, the dire need for the Courts dealing with cases involving such a serious offence to proceed with the trial commenced on day to day basis in de die in diem until the trial is concluded. We wish to issue a note of caution to the trial Court dealing with sessions case to ensure that there are well settled procedures laid down under the Code of Criminal Procedure as regards the manner in which the trial should be conducted in sessions cases in order to ensure dispensation of justice without providing any scope for unscrupulous elements to meddle with the course of justice to achieve some unlawful advantage. In this respect, it is relevant to refer to the provisions contained in Chapter XVIII of the Criminal Procedure Code whereunder Section 231 it has been specifically provided that on the date fixed for examination of witnesses as provided under Section 230, the Session’s Judge should proceed to take all such evidence as may be produced in support of the prosecution and that in his discretion may permit cross-examination of any witnesses to be deferred until any other witness or witnesses have been examined or recall any witness for further cross-examination.

26. Under Section 309 of Cr.P.C. falling under Chapter XXIV it has been specifically stipulated as under:

“309. Power to postpone or adjourn proceedings.—(1) In every inquiry or trial, the proceedings shall be held as expeditiously as possible, and in particular, when the examination of witnesses has once begun, the same shall be continued from day to day until all the witnesses in attendance have been examined, unless the court finds the adjournment of the same beyond the following day to be necessary for reasons to be recorded.

Provided that when the inquiry or trial relates to an offence under Sections 376 to Section 376 D of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860), the inquiry or trial shall, as far as possible, be completed within a period of two months from the date of commencement of the examination of witnesses.

(2) If the court, after taking cognizance of an offence, or commencement of trial, finds it necessary or advisable to postpone the commencement of, or adjourn, any inquiry or trial, it may, from time to time, for reasons to be recorded, postpone or adjourn the same on such terms as it thinks fit, for such time as it considers reasonable, and may by a warrant remand the accused if in custody:

Provided that no Magistrate shall remand an accused person to custody under this section for a term exceeding fifteen days at a time:

Provided further that when witnesses are in attendance, no adjournment or postponement shall be granted, without examining them, except for special reasons to be recorded in writing:

Provided also that no adjournment shall be granted for the purpose only of enabling the accused person to show cause against the sentence proposed to be imposed on him.

Explanation 1 – If sufficient evidence has been obtained to raise a suspicion that the accused may have committed an offence and it appears likely that further evidence may be obtained by a remand this is a reasonable cause for a remand.

Explanation 2 – The terms on which an adjournment or postponement may be granted include, in appropriate cases, the payment of costs by the prosecution or the accused.”

27. In this context it will also be worthwhile to refer to a circular issued by the High Court of Delhi in Circular No.1/87 dated 12th January 1987. Clause 24A of the said circular reads as under: “24A disturbing trend of trial of Sessions cases being adjourned, in some cases to suit convenience of counsel and in some others because the prosecution is not fully ready, has come to the notice of the High Court. Such adjournments delay disposal of Sessions cases.

The High Court considers it necessary to draw the attention of all the Sessions Judges and Assistant Sessions Judges once again to the following provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, Criminal Rules of Practice, Kerala, 1982 and Circulars and instructions on the list system issued earlier, in order to ensure the speedy disposal of Sessions cases.

1.(a) In every enquiry or trial, the proceedings shall be held as expeditiously as possible, and, in particular, when the examination of witnesses has once begun, the same shall be continued from day to day until all the witnesses in attendance have been examined, unless the court finds the adjournment of the same beyond the following day to be necessary for reasons to be recorded. (Section 309 (1) Crl.P.C.).

(b) After the commencement of the trial, if the court finds it necessary or advisable to postpone the commencement of, or adjourn, any inquiry or trial, it may, from time to time, for reasons to be recorded postpone or adjourn the same on such terms as it thinks fit, for such time as it considers reasonable. If witnesses are in attendance no adjournment or postponement shall be granted, without examining them, except for special reasons to be recorded, in writing. (Section 309 (2) Cr.P.C.).

2. Whenever more than three months have elapsed between the date of apprehension of the accused and the close of the trial in the Court of Sessions, an explanation of the cause of delay, (in whatever court it may have occurred) shall be furnished, while transmitting the copy of the judgment. (Rule 147 Crl. Rules of Practice).

3. Sessions cases should be disposed of within six weeks of their institution, the date of commitment being taken as the date of institution in Sessions Cases. Cases pending for longer periods should be regarded as old cases in respect of which explanations should be furnished in the calendar statements and in the periodical returns. (High Court Circular No. 25/61 dated 26th October 1961).

4. Sessions cases should be given precedence over all other work and no other work should be taken up on sessions days until the sessions work for the day is completed. A Sessions case once posted should not be postponed unless that is unavoidable, and once the trial has begun, it should proceed continuously from day to day till it is completed. If for any reason, a case has to be adjourned or postponed, intimation should be given forthwith to both sides and immediate steps be taken to stop the witnesses and secure their presence on the adjourned date.

On receipt of the order of commitment the case should be posted for trial to as early a date as possible, sufficient time, say three weeks, being allowed for securing the witnesses. Ordinarily it should be possible to post two sessions cases a week, the first on Monday and the second on Thursday but sufficient time should be allowed for each case so that one case does not telescope into the next. Every endeavour should be made to avoid telescoping and for this, if necessary, the court should commence sitting earlier and continue sitting later than the normal hours. Judgment in the case begun on Monday should ordinarily be pronounced in the course of the week and that begun on Thursday the following Monday. (Instructions on the list system contained in the O.M. dated 8th March 1984).

All the Sessions Judges and the Assistant Sessions Judges are directed to adhere strictly to the above provisions and instructions while granting adjournments in Sessions Cases.

28. In this context some of the decisions which have specifically dealt with such a situation which has caused serious inroad into the criminal jurisprudence can also be referred to. In one of the earliest cases reported in Badri Prasad V. Emperor – (1912) 13 Crl. L.J. 861, a Division Bench of the Allahabad High Court has stated the legal position as under:

“….Moreover, we wish to point out that it is most inexpedient for a Sessions trial to be adjourned. The intention of the Code is that a trial before a Court of Session should proceed and be dealt with continuously from its inception to its finish. Occasions may arise when it is necessary to grant adjournments, but such adjournments should be granted only on the strongest possible ground and for the shortest possible period…..

(Emphasis added)

29. In a decision reported in Chandra Sain Jain and others V. The State – 1982 Crl. L.J. NOC 86 (ALL) a Single Judge has held as under while interpreting Section 309 of Cr.P.C.

“Merely because the prosecution is being done by C.B.I. or by any other prosecuting agency, it is not right to grant adjournment on their mere asking and the Court has to justify every adjournment if allowed, for, the right to speedy trial is part of fundamental rights envisaged under Art. 21 of the Constitution, 1979 Cri LJ 1036 (SC), Foll.”

(Emphasis added)

30. In the decision reported in The State V. Bilal Rai and others – 1985 Crl. L.J. NOC 38 (Delhi) it has been held as under: “When witnesses of a party are present, the court should make every possible endeavour to record their evidence and they should not be called back again. The work fixation of the Court should be so arranged as not to direct the presence of witnesses whose evidence cannot be recorded. Similarly, cross-examination of the witnesses should be completed immediately after the examination in chief and if need be within a short time thereafter. No long adjournment should be allowed. Once the examination of witnesses has begun the same should be continued from day to day.”

(Emphasis added)

31. In the decision reported in Lt. Col. S.J. Chaudhary V. State (Delhi Administration) – (1984) 1 SCC 722, this Court in paragraphs 2 and 3 has held as under:

“2. We think it is an entirely wholesome practice for the trial to go on from day-to-day. It is most expedient that the trial before the Court of Session should proceed and be dealt with continuously from its inception to its finish. Not only will it result in expedition, it will also result in the elimination of manoeuvre and mischief. It will be in the interest of both the prosecution and the defence that the trial proceeds from day-to- day. It is necessary to realise that Sessions cases must not be tried piecemeal. Before commencing a trial, a Sessions Judge must satisfy himself that all necessary evidence is available. If it is not, he may postpone the case, but only on the strongest possible ground and for the shortest possible period. Once the trial commences, he should, except for a very pressing reason which makes an adjournment inevitable, proceed de die in diem until the trial is concluded.

3. We are unable to appreciate the difficulty said to be experienced by the petitioner. It is stated that his Advocate is finding it difficult to attend the court from day-to-day. It is the duty of every Advocate, who accepts the brief in a criminal case to attend the trial from day-to- day. We cannot over-stress the duty of the Advocate to attend to the trial from day-to-day. Having accepted the brief, he will be committing a breach of his professional duty, if he so fails to attend. The criminal miscellaneous petition is, therefore, dismissed.”

(Emphasis added)

32. In a recent decision of the Delhi High Court reported in State V. Ravi Kant Sharma and Ors. – 120 (2005) DLT 213, a Single Judge of the High Court has held as under in paragraph 3:

“3. True the Court has discretion to defer the cross- examination. But as a matter of rule, the Court cannot orders in express terms that the examination-in-chief of the witnesses is recorded in a particular month and his cross-examination would follow in particular subsequent month. Even otherwise it is the demand of the criminal jurisprudence that criminal trial must proceed day-to-day. The fixing of dates only for examination-in- chief of the lengthy witnesses and fixing another date i.e. 3 months later for the purposes of cross-examination is certainly against the criminal administration of justice. Examination-in- chief if commenced on a particular date, the Trial Judge has to ensure that his cross-examination must conclude either on the same date or the next day if cross-examination is lengthy or can continue on the consecutive dates. But postponing the cross- examination to a longer period of 3 month is certainly bound to create legal complications as witnesses whose examination-in- chief recorded earlier may insist on refreshing their memory and therefore such an occasion should not be allowed to arise particularly when it is the demand of the criminal law that trial once commence must take place on day-to-day basis. For these reasons, the order passed by the learned Additional Sessions Judge to that extent will not hold good in the eyes of law and therefore the same is liable to be set aside. Set aside as such. Learned Additional Sessions Judge should refix the schedule of dates of examination of prosecution witnesses and shall ensure that examination-in-chief once commences cross- examination is completed without any interruption.” (Emphasis added)

33. In a comprehensive decision of this Court reported in State of U.P. V. Shambhu Nath Singh and others – (2001) 4 SCC 667 the legal position on this aspect has been dealt with in extenso. Useful reference can be made to paragraphs 10, 11 to 14 and 18:

“10. Section 309 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (for short “the Code”) is the only provision which confers power on the trial court for granting adjournments in criminal proceedings. The conditions laid down by the legislature for granting such adjournments have been clearly incorporated in the section. It reads thus:

309. xxxx xxxx xxxx

11. The first sub-section mandates on the trial courts that the proceedings shall be held expeditiously but the words “as expeditiously as possible” have provided some play at the joints and it is through such play that delay often creeps in the trials. Even so, the next limb of the sub-section sounded for a more vigorous stance to be adopted by the court at a further advanced stage of the trial. That stage is when examination of the witnesses begins. The legislature which diluted the vigour of the mandate contained in the initial limb of the sub-section by using the words “as expeditiously as possible” has chosen to make the requirement for the next stage (when examination of the witnesses has started) to be quite stern. Once the case reaches that stage the statutory command is that such examination “shall be continued from day to day until all the witnesses in attendance have been examined”. The solitary exception to the said stringent rule is, if the court finds that adjournment “beyond the following day to be necessary” the same can be granted for which a condition is imposed on the court that reasons for the same should be recorded. Even this dilution has been taken away when witnesses are in attendance before the court. In such situation the court is not given any power to adjourn the case except in the extreme contingency for which the second proviso to sub-section (2) has imposed another condition,

“provided further that when witnesses are in attendance, no adjournment or postponement shall be granted, without examining them, except for special reasons to be recorded in writing”. (emphasis supplied)

12. Thus, the legal position is that once examination of witnesses started, the court has to continue the trial from day to day until all witnesses in attendance have been examined (except those whom the party has given up). The court has to record reasons for deviating from the said course. Even that is forbidden when witnesses are present in court, as the requirement then is that the court has to examine them. Only if there are “special reasons”, which reasons should find a place in the order for adjournment, that alone can confer jurisdiction on the court to adjourn the case without examination of witnesses who are present in court.

13. Now, we are distressed to note that it is almost a common practice and regular occurrence that trial courts flout the said command with impunity. Even when witnesses are present, cases are adjourned on far less serious reasons or even on flippant grounds. Adjournments are granted even in such situations on the mere asking for it. Quite often such adjournments are granted to suit the convenience of the advocate concerned. We make it clear that the legislature has frowned at granting adjournments on that ground. At any rate inconvenience of an advocate is not a “special reason” for bypassing the mandate of Section 309 of the Code.

14. If any court finds that the day-to-day examination of witnesses mandated by the legislature cannot be complied with due to the non-cooperation of the accused or his counsel the court can adopt any of the measures indicated in the sub-section i.e. remanding the accused to custody or imposing cost on the party who wants such adjournments (the cost must be commensurate with the loss suffered by the witnesses, including the expenses to attend the court). Another option is, when the accused is absent and the witness is present to be examined, the court can cancel his bail, if he is on bail (unless an application is made on his behalf seeking permission for his counsel to proceed to examine the witnesses present even in his absence provided the accused gives an undertaking in writing that he would not dispute his identity as the particular accused in the case).

18. It is no justification to glide on any alibi by blaming the infrastructure for skirting the legislative mandates embalmed in Section 309 of the Code. A judicious judicial officer who is committed to his work could manage with the existing infrastructure for complying with such legislative mandates. The precept in the old homily that a lazy workman always blames his tools, is the only answer to those indolent judicial officers who find fault with the defects in the system and the imperfections of the existing infrastructure for their tardiness in coping with such directions.”

(Emphasis added)

34. Keeping the various principles, set out in the above decisions, in mind when we examine the situation that had occurred in the case on hand where PW.20 was examined-in-chief on 18.09.2000 and was cross examined after two months i.e. on 18.11.2000 solely at the instance of the appellant’s counsel on the simple ground that the counsel was engaged in some other matter in the High Court on the day when PW.20 was examined-in-chief, the adjournment granted by the trial Court at the relevant point of time only disclose that the Court was oblivious of the specific stipulation contained in Section 309 of Cr.P.C. which mandate the requirement of sessions trial to be carried on a day to day basis. The trial Court has not given any reason much less to state any special circumstance in order to grant such a long adjournment of two months for the cross-examination of PW.20. Everyone of the caution indicated in the decision of this Court reported in Rajdeo Sharma V. State of Bihar – 1998 Crl. L.J. 4596 was flouted with impunity. In the said decision a request was made to all the High Courts to remind all the trial Judges of the need to comply with Section 309 of the Code in letter and spirit. In fact, the High Courts were directed to take note of the conduct of any particular trial Judge who violates the above legislative mandate and to adopt such administrative action against the delinquent judicial officer as per the law.

35. It is unfortunate that in spite of the specific directions issued by this Court and reminded once again in Shambhu Nath (supra) such recalcitrant approach was being made by the trial Court unmindful of the adverse serious consequences affecting the society at large flowing therefrom. Therefore, even while disposing of this appeal by confirming the conviction and sentence imposed on the appellant by the learned trial Judge, as confirmed by the impugned judgment of the High Court, we direct the Registry to forward a copy of this decision to all the High Courts to specifically follow the instructions issued by this Court in the decision reported in Rajdeo Sharma (supra) and reiterated in Shambhu Nath (supra) by issuing appropriate circular, if already not issued. If such circular has already been issued, as directed, ensure that such directions are scrupulously followed by the trial Courts without providing scope for any deviation in following the procedure prescribed in the matter of a trial of sessions cases as well as other cases as provided under Section 309 of Cr.P.C. In this respect, the High Courts will also be well advised to use their machinery in the respective State Judicial Academy to achieve the desired result. We hope and trust that the respective High Courts would take serious note of the above directions issued in the decisions reported in Rajdeo Sharma (supra) which has been extensively quoted and reiterated in the subsequent decision of this Court reported in Shambhu Nath (supra) and comply with the directions at least in the future years.

36. In the result, while we upheld the conviction and sentence imposed on the appellant, we issue directions in the light of the provisions contained in Section 231 read along with Section 309 of Cr.P.C. for the trial Court to strictly adhere to the procedure prescribed therein in order to ensure speedy trial of cases and also rule out the possibility of any maneuvering taking place by granting undue long adjournment for mere asking. The appeal stands dismissed.

 ………………………J. [Swatanter Kumar]

…………………………….J.[Fakkir Mohamed Ibrahim Kalifulla]

December 06, 2012

CRIMINAL APPEAL NO(s). 1735 OF 2009 AKIL @ JAVED Appellant (s)

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