The right to a speedy trial guaranteed by Art. 21 of the Constitution

The right to a speedy trial is one of the dimensions of the fundamental right to life and liberty guaranteed by Art. 21 of the Constitution:vide Hussainara Khatoon(I) v. State of Bihar, (1979) 1 SCR 169 (per Bhagwati and Koshal. JJ.). Kadra Pahadiya(I) v. State of Bihar. AIR 1981 SC 939 (per Bhagwati and Sen. JJ.), Kadra Pahadiya(II) v. State of Bihar, AIR 1982 SC 1167 (per Bhagwati and Eradi, JJ.) and State of Maharashtra v. Champa Lal Punjaji Shah, (1981) 3 SCC 610 (per Chinnappa Reddy, Sen and Baharul Islam, JJ.). In foreign jurisdictions also, where the right to a fair trial within a reasonable time is a constitutionally protected right, the infringement of that right has been held in appropriate cases sufficient to quash a conviction or to stop further proceedings:Strunk v. United States. (1973) 37 Law Ed 2d 56 and Barker v. Wingo, (1972) 407 US 514 two cases decided by the United States Supreme Court and Bell v. Director of Public Prosecutions, Jamaica, (1985) 2 All ER 585, a case from Jamaica decided by the Privy Council. Several questions arise for consideration. Was there delay? How long was the delay? Was the delay inevitable having regard to the nature of the case, the sparse availability of legal services and other relevant circumstances? Was the delay unreasonable? Was any part of the delay caused by the wilfulness or the negligence of the prosecuting agency? Was any part of the delay caused by the tactics of the defence? Was the delay due to causes beyond the control of the prosecuting and defending agencies? Did the accused have the ability and the opportunity to assert his right to a speedy trial? Was there a likelihood of the accused being prejudiced in his defence? Irrespective of any likelihood of prejudice in the conduct of his defence. Was the very length of the delay sufficiently prejudicial to the accused? Some of these factors have been identified in Barker N. Wingo (supra). A host of other questions may arise which we may not be able to readily visualise just now. The question whether the right to a speedy trial which forms part of the fundamental right to life and liberty guaranteed by Art. 21 has been infringed is ultimately a question of fairness in the administration of criminal justice even as ‘acting fairly’ is of the essence of the principles of natural justice (In re H. K. 1967 (1) All ER 226) and a ‘fair and reasonable procedure’ is what is contemplated by the expression procedure established by law’ in Art. 21 (Maneka Gandhi).