October 4, 2022

When PIL was filed to appoint special judicial magistrates to dispose petty cases

Segment- Reforms in Criminal Justice System  

Kadra Pahadiya v. State of Bihar, (1997)

This was the case of Kadra Pahadiya v. State of Bihar, (1997), Where a Public Interest petition was filed to Supreme Court to establish a special mechanism in term of Special judicial magistrate for the disposal of cases. Because Section 13 and 18 of the criminal procedure code give the power to High Court to appoint Special Judicial Magistrate in certain cases.

Section 13 and Section 18 of the criminal procedure code

Section 13 contemplates appointment of Special Judicial Magistrates by the High Court if requested by the Central or the State Government so to do, and Section 18 contemplates appointment of Special Metropolitan Magistrates by the High Court if requested by the Central or the State Government so to do.

The Advocacy for PIL

In support of his petition, the counsel contended that the dockets of the Magistrates all over the country were swollen on account of petty cases which could be disposed of by the appointment of Special Judicial Magistrates and Special Metropolitan Magistrates in sufficient numbers and once these cases are taken out of the regular courts, the regular courts would be free to dispose of serious cases faster, and that would meet the requirement of speedy justice.

He further submitted that when cases are pending in such large numbers, there is no justification for not using a part of the system envisaged by the Code According to him, it betrays indifference and lack of concern for speedy disposal of cases.

He contended that it is essential that the infrastructure contemplated by these provisions should be put to use so that, to begin with, sufficient number of Special Judicial Magistrates and Special Metropolitan Magistrates could be appointed, without unduly burdening the exchequer, for the disposal of cases which are triable summarily under Sections 260 and 261 of the Code as well as cases which fall in table I under Section 320 of the Code (compoundable by the parties).

The counsel further submitted that there was no justification for the State Governments and the Central Government for not invoking the afore-mentioned provisions even after resolutions were adopted in this behalf by the Conference of Chief Ministers and Chief Justices in 1993 and which were later endorsed by the Law Minister’s Meeting held in Calcutta on 17.11.1994

Admission of PIL by Court

The court admitted the PIL for hearing and issued the notice to state governments, as well as the Central Government to indicate whether or not the concerned states had invoked the aforesaid provisions and if not, the reasons therefore.

The State Governments were also required to indicate how many traffic cases, or cases which fall in table I under Section 320 of the Code, were pending in their States. The Central Government was required to submit similar information in regard to the Union Territories. The Governments were given time upto 15.9.1995 to submit the required information and the matter was directed to be listed on 22.9.1995 for orders.

Steps taken by States Government to ensure speedy disposal of cases

When States Governments submitted their reports, the court carefully examined the reports. And followings positions emerged after considering the reports-

We want to amend the section

State of Madhya Pradesh submitted in its reports that it had forwarded a proposal to the Central Government to amend Section 13 of the Code. The explanation did not satisfy the court.

Highly paid magistrates of Delhi were disposing petty cases of traffic instead of serious cases

As per the report of Delhi, there were more two lakh cases pending in the Magisterial Courts which had been distributed amongst 88 Metropolitan Magistrates who were required to work from 2.00 p.m. to 5.00 p.m. on every working Saturday.

 This would show that the time of 88 Metropolitan Magistrates had to be expended for petty cases. Despite such an arrangement, having regard to the huge number of traffic cases, a large number of them remained pending. The court noted with disapproval the lack of initiative on the part of the administration in getting Special Metropolitan Magistrates appointed for clearing these petty cases and for placing the highly paid Metropolitan Magistrates for the disposal of petty matters.

We are not doing anything

The State of U.P. had not taken any such initiative for the appointment of special magistrates. And The State of West Bengal did not come out with any response.

We want to reform judiciary but judiciary is not interested

The State of Karnataka disclosed that it had already taken the initiative by writing to the High Court, but the High Court had not taken action in the appointment of the Special Judicial Magistrates.

Yes, We are already concerned to the reform of our criminal justice system

The state of Himachal Pradesh had already invoked the afore-mentioned provisions and the High Court had, after framing rules regarding such appointments, conferred powers on three officers.

So far as the State of Bihar is concerned, the Government had taken steps and the High Court had decided to confer such powers on suitable persons.

In the State of Punjab, the matter was pending with the High Court and the appointments were yet to be made. The High Court of Punjab & Haryana has framed the necessary rules.

The State of Assam has appointed 97 IAS Officers as Special Judicial Magistrates.

Orissa had requested the High Court for appointment of Special Judicial Magistrates.

The Government of Andhra Pradesh had already invoked the relevant provisions and the High Court of Andhra Pradesh had framed the necessary rules.

The State of Nagaland informed the Court that in view of the special situation in the State, where several other high ranking executive officers besides the Judicial Magistrates, were performing the duties of Judicial Magistrates, there was no need to invoke the provisions of Section 13 & 18 of the Code.

The State of Mizoram informed the Court that the total member of traffic cases in the State was only 55 and that a good number of Enforcement Officers under the Transport Department and quasi-Judicial Officers had been empowered to adjudicate and compound traffic offences, thereby leaving hardly any traffic offences to be tried by ordinary criminal courts. All the same, the Government of Mizoram had initiated the process under Section 13 and 18 of the Code.

The State of Gujarat had also initiated action and the High Court had framed rules.

Our citizens do not breach traffic rules oftenly so we don’t need special magistrates

So far the State of Kerala was concerned, the High Court of Kerala informed the State Government that in the prevailing circumstances there was no need for appointment of Special Judicial Magistrates and/or Special Metropolitan Magistrates in the State.

In the Union Territories of Daman & Diu, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, as well as in Lakshad-weep, since the amount of litigation was meagre, the Union of India submitted in an affidavit that there was no need to invoke the aforementioned provisions. The State of Sikkim took the same stand.

We withdrew the petty cases to reduce the burden of courts

The Registrar, High Court of Calcutta, reported that the High Court had taken several steps for withdrawal of petty cases, appointment of Special Magistrate etc. and that the efforts had slowed down because the Government, upon the withdrawal of all petty cases more than five years old, had opined that the existing Courts could cope with the reduced volume of work, and that steps were now being taken to frame rules.

The position that now emerges is that practically every State has paid attention to the provisions of Sections 13 and 18 of the Code and necessary steps have been taken by them for giving effect to these provisions by appointing suitable number of Special Judicial Magistrates/Special Metropolitan Magistrates. They have also initiated the process of framing the rules required to give effect to these provisions of the Code.

What court said in terms of the appointment of judicial magistrates?

The supreme courts suggested the High Courts to take extremely caution in the conferment of power and should do based on the qualification and experience of each appointee.

Withdrawal of cases is not solution

The court opined that, unless a machinery is set up to ensure that such cases will not pile up once again after the system is put on an even keel by the withdrawal of such cases, such measure will not serve any purpose but will, instead, send a wrong signal to the offenders that they can commit such infractions with impunity as nothing will happen to them, and ultimately the cases would be withdrawn.

That will bring about more indiscipline in society rather than create a culture of discipline which is so vital for national growth.

But, if an adequate machinery of the type envisioned by Sections 13 and 18 of the Code is placed in position to ensure that cases do not pile up in future and then the cases are withdrawn with a view to placing the system on an even keel, it will achieve the desired objective to bring about discipline in society and eradicate crime. That is because the wrong-doer will know that he will be immediately hauled up before a Magistrate and would be punished if found guilty.

If the load of such petty crimes is taken out of the regular courts, those courts would have time to deal with more serious crimes rather than have their time consumed by such petty cases. Besides, petty cases would also be disposed of with speed if sufficient number of Second Class Magistrates and Special Judicial/Special Metropolitan Magistrates are appointed.

Governments and High Courts should utilise the machinery envisioned in Section 13 and Section 18

According to Court, with such a huge pendency, it is difficult to understand the indifference in utilising this machinery envisioned by the Code.

The decision to invoke these provisions was taken in 1993 at the Conference of Chief Ministers and Chief Justices which was presided over by the Prime Minister and was attended by the Chief Justice of India and yet there was almost halting progress. Even today the machinery has not been set up in some States, and where it has been set up, it is not in full strength as the status position indicated State-wise earlier would show.

Supreme Court’s Directions to the Governments

Supreme Court gave the following directions:

  • The notices against the States of Nagaland, Mizoram, Jammu and Kashmir and Sikkim and the Union Territories of Daman, Diu and Dadra Nagar Haveli are hereby discharged. (because they were doing great)
  • Out of the remaining States, those who have not addressed letters of request to their High Courts for appointment of Special Judicial Magistrates/Special Metropolitan Magistrates, are directed to do so within a month’s time so that petty cases may be dealt with by them relieving the regular Judicial Magistrates/Metropolitan Magistrate of such petty cases to enable them to deal with more serious cases.
  • The High Courts of all such States, on receipt of the letter of request, shall determine the total number of such Special Magistrates required to deal with the pendency of petty cases and take immediate steps to appoint them.
  • In cases where the High Court(s) has already received such a letter and has initiated action to appoint such Special Magistrates, it will, within one month, determine the total number of such Special Magistrates needed to dispose of the pendency of petty cases and ensure appointments at an early date, and
  • The High Courts will also ensure that after the regular Magistrates are relieved of petty cases, they would dispose of a larger number of more serious cases so that the offenders are brought to book at an early date and the innocent are not unnecessarily vexed for long spells.

Apart from these directions, the court further directed to the States covered by direction No. 2 to pay a sum of Rs. 10,000 each to the Supreme Court Legal Aid Committee by way of costs.