New Delhi, September 18: The Supreme Court has asked the Chief Justices of High Courts to head Special Benches and immediately hear long-pending criminal cases against sitting and former legislators.

Over 4,400 criminal trials have been held up, some for decades, because the powerful MPs and MLAs had approached the High Courts and got an interim stay. Some date back nearly 40 years. Most are stuck at the stage of framing of criminal charges.

These cases range from corruption to money laundering. “There are about 175 cases under the Prevention of Corruption Act and 14 cases are pending under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 against sitting/former legislators,” the order noted, as reported by The Hindu.

There are over 2,500 criminal cases against sitting legislators alone.

In a significant order published on Thursday against criminalisation of politics, a three-judge Bench led by Justice N.V. Ramana requested the Chief Justices to take up these cases which have been in the backburner indefinitely just because the courts had granted an interim stay of trial at some point of time in the distant past.

The Supreme Court asked the Chief Justices to list such cases immediately before their own respective Special Benches and review if the stay on the criminal trial needs to continue at all.

In case the interim stay is still necessary, the Special Bench concerned should finally decide the pending petitions to quash the criminal trial filed by the accused legislators within two months.

There should not be any unnecessary adjournments. The hearings should proceed on a day-to-day basis. The COVID-19 restrictions would not apply as the hearings can be done through video-conferencing, the Bench ordered.

It directed copies of this order to be sent forthwith to all the Chief Justices.

The 18-page order asked the Chief Justices to come up with an action plan on the infrastructure and number of special courts required to exclusively try criminal politicians.

The court found there was only one special court each to try criminal cases against legislators in States like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana and West Bengal.

The court asked the Chief Justices to submit their action plans based on the number of cases pending against MPs/MLAs in their respective States, the number of judges and their tenure, the number of cases assigned to them and the expected time of disposal, among other crucial details. It ordered the case to be listed again in two weeks.

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