Last Friday when the Bombay High Court speedily issued orders that saved actor Salman Khan from going to jail, the populist response to the court’s action was to deduce that those who wield clout can ensure speedy relief.
Notorious for snail-paced justice delivery, the judiciary was criticised for swift disposal of the actor’s bail plea. Khan who was convicted and sentenced to five years in jail earlier last week after a 13-year trial of a hit-and-run case got two bail orders in three days that keep him out of custody for now.
Critics, including the media, assign Khan’s celebrity and superstar status as a possible reason for how quickly the judiciary worked for him.
But that reasoning can be flipped on its head.
Why blame Justice Abhay Thipsay — the Bombay HC judge who heard Khan’s bail plea — for speed? Why not make it a model that the judicial system could emulate for all such cases, many of which sometimes remain pending for decades before they can be taken up.
As ruled by the Supreme Court, the right to speedy trial is a fundamental right.
“If a person is deprived of his liberty under a procedure which is not “reasonable, fair or just”, such deprivation would be violative of his fundamental right under Article 21 and he would be entitled to enforce such fundamental right and secure his release,” said the SC in Hussainara Khatoon versus State of Bihar in 1979.
It is for this reason that many jurists have welcomed the Bombay High Court’s orders quickly disposing of Khan’s bail pleas.
Former Delhi High Court judge RS Sodhi said: “Article 14 (right to equality) should apply uniformly. Every person must be entitled to the same speed in restoring their personal liberty. Judicial sensitivity must not be selective, but applied equally to everyone.”
Speed serves the best interests of the accused, the victims and the society, he added.
In fact, Justice Thipsay raised issues that question the lower court’s conviction and sentencing orders. In his seven-page bail order, the judge said: “Even on the basis that there is sufficient evidence to indicate that the applicant (Khan) was driving the vehicle in question, at the material time, certainly, a number of arguable points have been raised, which need serious consideration.”
“Among other things, whether the offence allegedly committed by the applicant, would amount to an offence punishable under section 304 II of the IPC (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), and not merely an offence punishable under section 304 A (causing death by negligence) of the IPC, would also need examination,” Justice Thipsay added.
Referring to the forces that could influence judges, American Supreme Court Judge Benjamin Cordozo once said: “The great tides and currents which engulf the rest of men do not turn aside in their course and pass the judges by”.
It appears the HC didn’t bother much about the hype around Khan’s conviction and possible incarceration. This bodes well for the Indian Judiciary as judges are not supposed to be swayed by the high-decibel media blitzkrieg, a phenomenon that often marks cases that involve celebrities.