In a bid to ease judicial backlog, the state government has decided to withdraw criminal cases that are pending before lower courts for over five years because of non-availability of First Information Reports (FIRs), victims, witnesses or accused.
Over 6.09 lakh cases have been pending for over five years in courts of chief judicial magistrates and judicial magistrates first class across Maharashtra. In many of these, the government feels it has little chance of securing a conviction for want of evidence or because there is no trace of persons concerned. The State Law and Judiciary Department feels that withdrawing such ‘stale and ineffective’ cases will take a considerable load off the state’s lower courts, where a total of 32.76 lakh cases were pending till December 31, 2011.
The ‘amnesty scheme’ was first used for a year in 1996, but was stopped for reasons that aren't known. Earlier this month, the government issued fresh guidelines for the scheme. Each district will have a competent committee under a sessions court judge and will recommend stale cases at least once in two months to the state committee headed by the chief secretary. The state panel will ensure that recommendations for withdrawal are processed properly and implemented by the home department.
“While determining stale cases, the district committee will consider all relevant factors, including the nature of the offence, circumstances of the case, character of the accused, the reason for non-availability of concerned persons and the possibility of the trial ending in conviction,” said a senior law and judiciary officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The cases to be withdrawn will be those that deal with minor crime and are punishable with imprisonment term not exceeding three years. Persons being tried under Acts such as prohibition and prevention of gambling, shops and establishment, weights and measures, motor vehicles, offences under Indian Penal Code and any other law can expect legal respite. The scheme will not apply to repeat offenders.