Extension of judicial custody merely on the ground that Forensic Science Laboratories (FSL) failed to furnish its report on time, is violative of Article 21, the Karnataka High Court recently ruled.
A single-judge Bench of Justice Suraj Govindaraj said that an accused person has a right to an expeditious trial, more so when he/she is in judicial custody.
“The said custody cannot be extended merely on the ground that the FSL is unable to furnish the reports in time and/or the number of FSL are lesser than that required. Such a delay infringes on the right to life of an accused under Article 21 of the constitution of India. Delay by the FSL in providing a report whatever the reason may be is resulting in a situation which cannot be countenanced under law,” the Court held.
The petitioners in the matter had sought quashing of the proceedings of a subordinate court on account of the delayed receipt of DNA report. They also prayed for deferment of trial until the DNA test report and similar reports are received from the FSL.
The petitioners also sought inquiry into various aspects relating to cases which are pending trial on account of the reports from the FSL not having been received, number of samples pending examination etc.
On this, the Court was told that there are around 6,994 cases which are pending trial due to reports from the FSL not having been received and over 35,738 samples pending examination.
However, what shocked the Court the most was the time taken for submission of reports in criminal cases. The Court after analysing the data on record, noted that while a Narcotic matter takes 1 year for submission of report, a computer/mobile/audio-video forensics and a DNA test take about 1.5 years.
This delay in submission of reports by FSL would give rise to numerous problems – large number of undertrials may be kept in jail during the pendency of the above reports, innocent persons could be incarcerated and so on.
This apart, the Court specifically stated that the victim or victim’s family also suffers on account of such delay, “not knowing what will happen and when”.
“The effect of the delay in furnishing the not only delays the trial in a matter, it is also possible that due to the said delay the sample may degrade or get contaminated, thus negating the very purpose of forensic examination,” the Bench opined.
The Court also highlighted the role played by forensic evidence such as DNA reports, chemical analysis reports, bioanalysis reports in the investigation of serious crimes, like murder and sexual assault cases.
“It is needless to say that Forensic Evidence like DNA reports, chemical analysis reports, bioanalysis reports play a critical role in the investigation of serious crimes, like Murder, sexual assault cases, forgery etc. The delay in submitting forensic reports by FSL necessarily hampers the proceedings in a case. One of the biggest impediments to a speedy trial is the delay in the filing of FSL reports. Cases are adjourned for years due to non-receipt of these reports. Some cases are not even committed to the sessions court or special Court due to non-receipt of the reports,” the Court said.
Karnataka, being the front runner in Information Technology with “Bangalore being the Silicon Valley of the east”, it is rather anomalous and unacceptable that there is only one FSL which has 13 sections functioning, the Court added.
Therefore, the Bench went on to issue the following directions:
- State to act expeditiously and fill the existing vacancies at SFSL and RFSL as expeditiously as possible at any rate within a period of six months from date of receipt of certified copy of this order.
- An action plan is required to be drawn up as regards the pending samples, the timelines within which reports regarding these samples would be filed before the concerned court.
- A monitoring system is required to be established to monitor the passage of the sample from the time it was collected to the date of submission of the report in Court.
- A study as regards the latest equipment available, modernisation of the Laboratories, a process of the equipment to be updated from time to time is also to be put in place.
- Even if the said officer of the FSl is required to appear and depose in a particular manner, it will also be advisable to permit the said evidence to be led through video conference facilitating.
- The trial Court has to maintain a strict vigil on adjournments being granted for the production of FSL reports, the trial Court ought to insist on the reports being submitted at the earliest.