Saturday, September 25, 2010
Criminal law scholars regularly maintain that American prisons are overcrowded and that defendants in custody wait long periods of time before having their cases brought to trial. A similar refrain is made of the penal process in India – the world’s largest democracy, an ally of the United States, and a country with a judiciary that has drawn upon American criminal procedure law. In fact, the situation in India is thought to be much worse. Accounts of prisoners languishing behind bars for several years – and sometimes decades – awaiting their day in court are not uncommon. And many Indian prisons are one hundred-to-two hundred percent over-capacity, where conditions are squalid and weaker inmates face serious physical harm.
In this study, we examine the current state of the Indian criminal justice system. Beginning in 1979, the Indian Supreme Court, referencing the American constitution’s Sixth Amendment, held that defendants had a fundamental right to a speedy trial. We examine the evolution of the Indian jurisprudence on this matter, which has been quite favorable for defendants, but then move beyond this line of inquiry by empirically evaluating whether the positive court rulings have translated into tangible changes for the criminally-accused. As our findings suggest, there exists a major gap in India between these encouraging judicial pronouncements and how this right plays-out in reality, which we believe provides an important perspective for comparative and criminal law scholars.