Speedy trial was held by Supreme court in Hussainara Khatoon v. State of Bihar[1] an essential ingredient of ‘reasonable, fair and just’ procedure guaranteed by Article 21 and the constitutional obligation of the State to device such a procedure as would ensure speedy trial to the accused.

This case originated when a writ petition was filed to release the prisoners who were languishing in the prison of State of Bihar, they had been in jail for periods longer than the maximum term for which they could have been sentenced; if convicted.

Those under-trial prisoners had been in jail for a period of over six to seven years. As per the court there was no fact in the affidavit filed by the state disclosing the reason as to why there had been such enormous delay in bringing the under-trial prisoners to trial.

Duty of the State to provide Speedy Trial

The court said that the State cannot be permitted to deny the constitutional right of speedy trial to the accused on the ground that the State has no adequate financial resources to incur the necessary expenditure needed for improving the administrative and judicial apparatus with a view to ensuring speedy trial.

The State may have its financial constraints and its priorities in expenditure, but, as pointed out by the Court in Rhem v. Malclm:

“The law does not permit any Government to deprive its citizens of constitutional rights on a plea of poverty”.

Justice Blackmun said in Jackson v. Bishop:

“Humane considerations and constitutional requirements are not, in this day, to be measured by dollar considerations….”

In Hussainara case, the court emphasised that the State cannot avoid its constitutional obligation to provide speedy trial to the accused by pleading financial or administrative inability. The State is under a constitutional mandate to ensure speedy trial and whatever is necessary for this purpose has to be done by the State. It is also the constitutional obligation of this Court as the guardian of the fundamental rights of the people, as a sentinel on the qui vive, to enforce the fundamental right of the accused to speedy trial by issuing the necessary directions to the State which may include taking of positive action, such as augmenting and strengthening the investigative machinery, setting up new courts, building new court houses, providing more staff and equipment to the courts, appointment of additional judges and other measures calculated to ensure speedy trial.

Speaking for the bench, Justice Bhagwati said that,

“The powers of this Court in protection of the Constitutional rights are of the widest amplitude and we do not see why this Court should not adopt a similar activist approach and issue to the State directions which may involve taking of positive action with a view to securing enforcement of the fundamental right to speedy trial. But in order to enable the Court to discharge this constitutional obligation, it is necessary that the Court should have the requisite information bearing on the problem.”


Hussainara Khatoon & Ors vs Home Secretary, State of Bihar: 1979 AIR 1369, 1979 SCR (3) 532

[1] 1979 AIR 1369