Expeditious Trial in Cases Involving MPs and MLAs

The Supreme Court yesterday passed an interim order in a petition filed by an NGO “Public Interest Foundation” wherein it held that where MPs and MLAs are facing corruption cases and other serious offences which involve a punishment of two years or more, the trial will be held expeditiously on a day-to-day basis and completed within one year from the date of framing of the charge. The Court further held that in case the trial cannot be completed within one year the Trial Judge will have to give reasons to the Chief Justice of the High Court as to why this has not been possible.

Criminalization of politics has been a very serious issue confronting Indian polity. The malady has been that persons with criminal track record and pending charge sheets are fielded by political parties. This creates apprehension in the mind of the country with regard to the quality of politics and the kind of persons who enter the legislative bodies. Election Commission and the Law Commission have been suggesting a simple remedy. They argue that any person against whom charges have been framed in a certain category of offences will not be eligible to be fielded as a candidate. Whereas the Constitution and the Representation of Peoples Act debar convicted persons from becoming candidates there is no embargo on charge-sheeted politicians. This creates a disconnect between the legal requirement and public opinion.

Several meetings of the political parties have discussed this issue and were unable to find a solution to the pending problem. Political partes have argued that under law there is a presumption of innocence till the person is held guilty. A charge-sheeted person therefore cannot be presumed to be guilty. They further contend that law and order is a State subject and with the kind of vengeance politics in several States it is not difficult to fabricate cases against political opponents. The courts look at the prima-facie material while framing the charge. The framing of a charge itself being a disqualification can lead to an abuse of the process.

During the NDA government we worked towards the middle path. A Bill was prepared which proposed a certain categories of ‘heinous offences’. If charges in two cases involving heinous offences were framed, a person could be disqualified from contesting elections. Even this proposal which the NDA supported was rejected by other political parties.

What then is the solution? Can the system remain a mute spectator? The Supreme Court has attempted to find a solution. The solution respects the principle that a person is presumed to be innocent till held guilty. It provides a filter against motivated charge-sheets. It doesn’t debars persons on being merely charged. At the same time no politician, MP or MLA, has a right to a delayed trial. Since he holds a public office he must like Caesar’s wife be beyond suspicion. His trial must be expeditious and be conducted on a day-to-day basis. The trial should ordinarily be completed within one year except there are exceptional reasons that it cannot be possible.

The Supreme Court order upholds the presumption of innocence till held guilty. Simultaneously it puts the elected representatives to a strict and expeditious scrutiny. I welcome the order. It is a step in the right direction.