“Can’t Overlook Rights Of Accused Or Convict”: Delhi High Court

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Criminal courts cannot overlook the rights of an accused or convict, just as it cannot a victim’s, the Delhi High Court has said, deprecating the long date given by a trial court to three convicts awaiting punishment verdict in a kidnapping case.
The high court on Thursday, while considering that a trial court convicted the accused on November 25, 2022 and took them into custody and fixed February 4, 2023 for hearing arguments on sentence, said the trial court totally ignored the valuable right of speedy trial to the accused.

“The criminal courts, though are duty bound to consider the rights of victim, they cannot, at the same time, overlook or brush aside the rights of an accused or a convict.

A person who gets convicted has a statutory right to challenge the conviction in a higher court as well as seek suspension of sentence.

“However, such statutory right can only be exercised once the order on sentence is also pronounced by the Court concerned, as sentence is a part of the judgement in a trial,” Justice Swarana Kanta Sharma said.

The high court said it is the duty of the courts to ensure that the rights of the victim and of the accused are balanced.

“No doubt, striking a balance is a delicate task, however, the canons of criminal justice system so demand that an accused who is in judicial custody as well as any other person facing criminal trial, especially, those who are in judicial custody be given speedy trial by ensuring early hearings.

“In this regard, a perusal of the record shows that the trial court has, in most casual manner, passed the order dated November 25, 2022,” it said.

The high court was hearing a plea by the convicts who submitted that the trial court has fixed the matter for arguments on sentence 70 days after the date of conviction and urged that till the arguments are heard and order is pronounced on punishment, they are granted bail.

The kidnapping case dates back to March 2021. The men were on bail during the trial and were sent to judicial custody after their conviction on November 25, 2022.

The high court said the 70 days’ gap before the arguments for sentencing was not reasonable, and cancelled the February 4 date fixed by the trial court for the purpose.

It directed the parties to appear before the trial court on January 9, so that the court can take up the matter for hearing and fix the earliest possible date to hear arguments on sentence.

“In case a court takes an accused into custody after pronouncement of judgement and adjourns the matter to a long date for the purpose of hearing the parties on point of sentence, a valuable right of the convict remains suspended, since the person can neither challenge the conviction nor seek suspension of sentence and bail till order on sentence is also pronounced,” the high court said.

Perusing the trial court’s November order, the high court said that the order sheet records that the accused persons were on bail at the time of their conviction, but though they were taken into custody on the same day, neither the reasons for the same nor the fact that they have been taken into judicial custody finds mention in the order sheet.

“It is reflected only through this writ petition, that the accused persons are in judicial custody, whereas the judicial record of the trial court does not reflect the same. This amounts to a serious lapse on the part of trial court.

“The courts have to remain conscious of the fact that taking a person into judicial custody is taking away a valuable right of a person,” the high court said.

The court ordered the Registrar General of the high court to circulate a copy of this order to all district courts here and the Delhi Judicial Academy to sensitise judges dealing with the criminal cases about the need to pay special attention to an accused languishing in jail as an undertrial and is without resort.

It was aimed at ensuring that such lapses, which are against the principles of natural justice and the criminal justice system, do not occur.

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