Centre empowered to fast track trial of law makers facing criminal cases: SC

Centre empowered to fast track trial of law makers facing criminal cases: SC

The Supreme Court on Tuesday said that the Central government was empowered under the Constitution to take steps for the fast tracking of the trial in criminal cases against the elected representatives in the Parliament and the state assemblies.

Pointing to the list of the subjects falling under the Central list, the bench of Justice J. Chelameswar and Justice S. Abdul Nazeer said that it was within the powers and jurisdiction of the Centre to enact a law for the speedy trial of lawmakers facing criminal charges.

“The government of India could have come with such a law,” the bench told Attorney General K.K.Venugopal. “You have powers, jurisdiction … Why don’t you create machinery. Adjudication of disputes is a constitutional responsibility.”

The court said this as Venugopal told the bench that it can’t direct the parliament but can recommend to the executive (government) to enact such a law.

Initially, the Attorney General resisted the suggestion by the bench asking the Central government to take lead in the matter saying that the issue came within the domain of the states and they don’t appreciate being advised on matters falling within their jurisdiction.

Referring to an earlier case before the top court relating to jail reforms, he said that a thick book of advisories was issued to the states but they questioned the Central government’s powers to direct or issue advisories.

He told the court that none of the advisories issued by the Centre was carried out by the states.

“It is not open to the Union of India to tell the States to do this or that except what can be done (by the Centre) under Article 257 of the Constitution,” he told the bench which then confronted him with the entry 72 of the subjects in Central list, pertaining to elections to Parliament and state assemblies, the offices of President and Vice President and the Election Commission.”

Venugopal also argued that such a plea is likely to run into rough weather as affected elected representatives would contest the move on the grounds of discrimination vis-a-vis others facing trial in criminal cases in normal course.

The unimpressed bench, citing the meagre allocation of just one percent or one and half percent for the judiciary in the annual budget, said: “Each of the legislation comes with its rights and obligations. Every law creates rights and obligations … and they are dumped on existing courts.”

The court said this in the course of the hearing of a PIL by NGO Lok Prahari seeking wide range of directions including the disclosure of the sources of income of candidate contributing to increase in his assets, his wife and dependent children, existing contracts with the government or its agencies and the fast tracking of the trial of cases involving law makers facing criminal cases.

The Association of Democratic Reforms too had moved the court.

The court reserved its verdict after the conclusion of the hearing.

The Attorney General also opposed the plea for setting up of machinery to monitor the progress into the investigation into alleged disproportionate assets of a law maker by the tax authorities consequent follow up action.

At the outset of the hearing, the bench said that the investigation by the Income Tax Department into manifold increase in the assets of some elected representatives was not a question of just tax compliance but the source of richness and the propriety of the same.

The bench also expressed its reservation on including CBDT, CBI and others under Section 24 of the Right to Information Act that initially exempted the intelligence and security agencies from its ambit.

Saying that the information furnished by the intelligence agencies were for the administrative convenience and the larger concerns of the State, Justice Chelameswar wondered how CBDT or CBI falls in that category.

As Venugopal said that some part of the investigation can’t be put in public domain and are not even shared with the court, Justice Chelameswar said, for that they are “protected by the Code of Criminal Procedure … prima facie it is a questionable area”.

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