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THE Supreme Court has ruled that in cheque bouncing cases, the right to give evidence on affidavit, as provided to the complainant under section 145 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, is not available to the accused for expeditious decision in such mounting cases which are chocking the administration of criminal justice system in the country.

A bench comprising justices Tarun Chatterjee and Aftab Alam said it is not difficult to see that sections 143 to 147 were inserted in the Act by the Negotiable Instruments (Amendment and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 2002 to do away with all the stages and processes in a regular criminal trial that normally cause inordinate delay in its conclusion and to make the trial procedure as expeditious as possible without in any way compromising on the right of the accused for a fair trial.

It may be noted that cases under section 138 of the Act have been coming in such great multitude that even the introduction of such radical measures to make the trial procedure simplified and speedy has been of little help and cases of dishonoured cheques continue to pile up giving rise to an unbearable burden on the criminal court system. The Law Commission in its report number 213 sent to the Union minister for law and justice on November 24, 2008 advocated the setting up of fast track magisterial courts for dealing with the huge pendency of dishonoured cheque cases. The situation arising from the mounting arrears is so grave that in the ‘Vision Statement’ presented by the Union minister for law and justice to the chief justice of India in course of the national consultation for strengthening the judiciary towards reducing pendency and delays held on October 24, 2009, cases of dishonoured cheques were cited among one of the major bottlenecks in the criminal justice system.

"We have no hesitation in holding that the high court was in error in taking the view that on a request made by the accused the magistrate may allow him to tender his evidence on affidavit and consequently we set aside the direction,” said the apex court in its judgment, setting aside an order passed by the high court.

The high court had ruled that the right to give evidence on affidavit as provided to the complainant under section 145(1) of the Act is also available to the accused.

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