SC calls for special courts to try lawmakers with criminal cases

The Supreme Court on Wednesday sought the creation of special courts to exclusively deal with criminal cases involving politicians, saying such a move would be in the ''interest of the nation''.

A bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Navin Sinha asked the central government to match its commitment to decriminalising politics by setting up such courts to exclusively try pending criminal cases against politicians in a time-bound manner. It has given the government six weeks to come up with a scheme to set up the special courts.

''On the one hand, you say you want to decriminalise, you make a commitment. On the other hand, you say law and justice is a state subject and wash your hands off the matter,'' the bench said.

"Set up special courts,'' Justice Gogoi told additional solicitor general Atmaran Nadkarni when he said the Centre was committed to cleansing the political system from criminal elements. Justice Gogoi is next in line to be the Chief Justice of India.

Nadkarni, who spoke after the Election Commission called for a life-time ban on convicted politicians, said the issue of decriminalising politics was ''top priority''.

''Decriminalisation has to be done,'' he said.

Directing the Centre to place before it a scheme in this regard, the top court asked it about the 1,581 cases involving MPs and MLAs, as declared by the politicians at the time of filing of their nominations during the 2014 elections, and the details of how many of these cases have been disposed of within one year as per its directions passed in 2014.

It also sought details of how many of these 1,581 cases have ended in conviction or acquittal of the accused, the number of criminal cases lodged against politicians from 2014 to date as well as the data on disposal of these matters.

Nadkarni, representing the Centre, told the bench that the government was ''not averse to setting up of special courts and quick and early disposal of criminal cases involving politicians''.

He said that recommendations of the Election Commission of India (ECI) and the Law Commission favouring life-time disqualification of politicians convicted in criminal cases was under the ''active consideration'' of the Centre.

When Nadkarni said ''government of India's stand is that decriminalisation of politics has to be done,'' the bench shot back, ''Can there be any other stand?''

The apex court then referred to a report put forward by one of the parties who had filed a Public Interest Litigation in this matter. The Centre said it would furnish the details as sought by the court.

When the bench said these special courts would deal exclusively with criminal cases involving politicians, the Centre asked whether these courts could be combined with the special CBI courts which already exist across the country.

''No, do not combine it with anything else,'' the bench said, adding, ''it is in the interest of nation.''

Observing that the average number of cases each court in the country was dealing with currently was over 4,000 in subordinate judiciary, it said unless a judicial official deals exclusively with cases involving politicians, it would be difficult to complete the trial of within a year.

''We direct the competent authority of the Union of India to place before the court the following information: how many of 1,581 cases involving MLAs and MPs (as declared at the time of filing of the nomination papers to the 2014 elections) have been disposed of within the time frame of one year as envisaged by this Court by order dated 10th March, 2014; and how many of these cases which have been finally decided have ended in acquittal / conviction of MPs and MLAs.''

The Centre, in its affidavit, had said the prayer by the petitioner seeking life-time bar on convicted lawmakers was not maintainable and the plea should be dismissed.