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Troubling: Salman Khan's appeal happened 11 times faster than average, reveals data

The Bombay high court’s acquittal of Salman Khan raises disturbing questions about the court’s approach to prioritising cases, according to Daksh, a Bengaluru-based NGO, which researches political and administrative processes in order to create and evolve methods of accountability and transparency in governance.

Saying that the high court took just over seven months to decide this appeal, Harish Narasappa pointed out in a blog post that the DAKSH database has details of 52,921 criminal appeals pending in 18 High Courts across the country.

On average, he pointed out, the pendency is five years and nine months. Appeals in the Bombay high court actually take longer, he says. Currently, the Daksh database has details for 657 criminal appeals pending in the Bombay high court.

The average pendency, according to Daksh, is just over 13 years. Unlike Salman Khan who was already on bail pending his appeal, many others convicted by the lower courts, do not get bail and spend time in jail while their appeals are decided by the high courts.

The research on Daksh pendency in high courts was first published in Mint and Legally India earlier this year.

According to Narasappa, prioritisation of certain cases over others, and the reasons for such favoured treatment, challenge the notion of equality. The judiciary, he says, should follow the ‘first in, first out’ principle in disposal of cases, except where there is a demonstrated urgency. And the first in, first out principle should apply among the cases which are deemed urgent as well, he says. According to him, it is the subject matter of a case, and not the identity of the individuals involved in the cases, which should determine the urgency involved and the need for priority.

The Salman Khan appeal and the J Jayalalithaa appeal (decided by the high court of Karnataka in super quick time pursuant to a direction of the Supreme Court) were seriously troubling exceptions to the travails of the ‘other people’ whose appeals go on for years, he regretted.

In another blog written on Daksh’s website, Ramya Tirumalai, an associate at Daksh, pointed out that when Salman Khan filed his criminal appeal against his conviction in the 2002 hit-and-run case, on 6 May 2015, his was the 572nd criminal appeal filed in the Bombay high court in 2015. According to her, from the day of institution to the date of disposal, Khan’s case spent 220 days in court. This is 21 times faster than the disposal rate for other criminal appeals in the same court, she has pointed out.

Relying on the case status page of the Bombay high court’s website, she says that Khan had to sit through 47 hearings in 220 days.

That translates to roughly 4-5 days between hearings. As per the DAKSH data, this number would be very different for a non-celebrity appellant:

According to our data, on average, a case in the Bombay High Court would have to wait 51 days between hearings. In number speak this means that to go through the same number of hearings that Salman’s case did in 7 months, another criminal appeal would take more than 6 and a half years!

That is roughly 11 times slower than Khan's 7-month appeal.

Tirumalai pointed out that according to DAKSH data, on average, a case in the Bombay high court would have to wait 51 days between hearings. In number-speak, this means that to go through the same number of hearings that Salman’s case did in seven months, another criminal appeal would take more than six and a half years, she explains. “Apart from the query as to why a case needs to go through 47 hearings, there is the more obvious question – Doesn’t everyone have the same need for speed(y) trial?, she asked.

Photo by Bollywoodhungama

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