The Supreme Court has asked for major changes in how cases against sitting and former lawmakers are heard, putting a bar on unnecessary adjournments and indefinite stays in pending criminal trials, and considering to offer protection even without a formal request to all witnesses.
These new rules, which will apply to cases against both sitting and former members of Parliament and legislative assemblies, are part of a Supreme Court order on November 4 in a PIL filed by BJP leader and lawyer Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay.
The full order was made public on Monday. Upadhyay’s petition, being heard by the top court since 2016, demanded the quick resolution of criminal trials pending against lawmakers. Senior advocate Vijay Hansaria and advocate Sneha Kalita, who are assisting the SC as amicus curiae in the case, pressed for many reforms in a report submitted on November 2.
There are 4,859 criminal cases pending against lawmakers across the country. Of these, 2,556 cases involve sitting legislators.In the order, a three-judge bench, headed by justice NV Ramana and also comprising justices Surya Kant and Aniruddha Bose, said: “Keeping in mind the public interest involved in these matters, and in order to prevent undue delay, we direct that no unnecessary adjournments be granted in these matters (involving MPs/MLAs).”
Senior advocate Gopal Shankarnaraynan, appearing for Upadhyay, argued that stay orders cannot be indefinite.
The court was also particular about enhancing the scope of the witness protection scheme for people deposing in cases against lawmakers. “Keeping in mind the vulnerability of the witnesses in such cases, the trial court may consider granting protection under the said scheme to witnesses without their making any specific application in this regard,” the top court said in the order. Advocate Sneha Kalita, who is assisting the amicus curiae in the present case said, “Using political might, money and muscle power, trial in such cases get prolonged. The decision of the court is a step in the right direction.”