On Monday, February 6, 2017, Karnataka made a not-so-subtle reminder to the Supreme Court that it had not delivered its verdict in the Jayalalithaa disproportionate assets case. "It is my unfortunate responsibility to remind your lordships that the verdict has not been pronounced yet," said Karnataka's counsel in the Supreme Court of India. The immediate response from the bench was that the verdict would be out in a week.
The verdict in the case which everyone has been waiting for is likely to be out next week. Just to recap, this case was filed in 1996 and has seen so many twists and turns that it eventually got delayed. The main accused in the case, Jayalalithaa in fact became chief minister of Tamil Nadu twice during the pendency of the case.
True, such cases are sensitive in nature and would require careful examination before a verdict is delivered. After all this case defines the politics of a state. The Lordships may argue that Justice hurried is justice buried. But then there is also the famous saying, 'justice delayed is justice denied'."
The Jaya DA case has been infamous for its delay. If one goes through this timeline it would clearly suggest the delay.
Having covered the case since day one when the court was set up in Bengaluru, it would not be wrong to say that unwanted applications and submissions have contributed to the delay in the case. The courts entertained most of the applications and there was a time when the trial was stayed for nearly seven years. The court was set up in 2003 and it was only in 2010 that the SC cleared the way for the trial to commence.
Out of turn appeal:
Once the trial got underway in 2011, proceedings moved at a brisk pace. There were not many hiccups barring a change in judge and prosecutor between 2010 and 2014. Once Michael D Cunnha took over as the special judge on October 29, 2012, he did not give any room for delay.
By August 28, 2014, the trial concluded. On September 27, the verdict was out and Jayalalithaa, Sasikala Natarajan, Ilavarasi and Sudhakaran were sentenced to four years in jail apart and a fine of Rs 100 crore.
From here the events did take a peculiar turn. On October 7, Jayalalithaa's bail plea was rejected by the Karnataka high court, but got it in the Supreme Court 10 days later. The came an order from the Supreme Court on December 18, 2014 which directed the high court to constitute a special bench and hear the matter in four months. The accused were not in jail and were out on bail.
Ordering an appeal on priority when an accused person is in jail is a given and also understandable. However, legal experts questioned why this appeal was taken out of turn. Normally appeals come up after three years as it needs to go in order. Questions were being asked why several other unfortunate appellants are made to wait and some cases including that of Salman Khan were taken out of turn.
To justify the above let us take a look at an interview that this correspondent did with Justice Santhosh Hegde, former judge of the Supreme Court. He said, "There are so many cases that are pending in the court. Both the Supreme Court and the high court should not be taking up cases out of turn. No one case is more important than the other. In the Jayalalithaa disproportionate assets case, it was taken up both in the high court and the Supreme Court out of turn and even disposed off. Even in the Salman Khan hit-and-run case, the matter was taken up so quickly by the Bombay court and disposed off. Why? Were there no other cases pending. What about those appeals pending for years? Are they less important."
Meanwhile in the Supreme Court:
In January 2015, a special bench comprising Justice C R Kumaraswamy is constituted in the Karnataka high court. By March 6 2015, arguments conclude and five days later on March 11, the verdict is out and Jayalalithaa and four others are acquitted.
The appeals are filed in the Supreme Court. Hearing is held on a day to day basis and by June arguments conclude. On June 26, a Bench comprising Justices P C Ghose and Amitava Roy reserve orders. It has been eight months and the verdict is still awaited.
An appeal that was ordered to be heard in four months at the high court is pending judgment for 8 months now in the Supreme Court. Passing an order in a case within three months is a convention and not a law. Passing an order before a judge retires is also a convention and not a rule. The SC needed a reminder to deliver its verdict. In fact one must recall that while reserving the verdict the Bench had indicated that the verdict would be out in three months. Clearly that did not happen since our Lordships are bound by convention and not the law.