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The Right to a Fair Trial

Coordinating a fair trial for those who are inculpated of criminal offences, is the backbone of democracy. A ‘fair trial’ is one of the most important humanitarian aspects of criminal justice and, in a way, an important component reflected in the rule of law. Acknowledgement of the fairest possibility to the accused in order to prove their integrity is the key component of every fair trial. Escorting a fair trial is fruitful both to the accused as well as to the civilisation. A conviction arising from an unfair trial is conflicting with our theory of justice.


A fair trial clearly would mean a trial before an unbiased judge, an honest prosecutor and an environment of judicial tranquillity. A fair trial means a trial in which there’s no discrimination, it is not influenced or twisted for, or against the inculpated and the witnesses or the source which is being tried. If the witnesses get terrorized or are imposed to give forged evidence that also would not score in a fair trial. The failure to gather necessary witnesses is certainly denying a fair trial. The right to a fair trial in a criminal prosecution is enshrined in Article 21. Additionally, Section 142 of the Evidence Act does not give power to the prosecution to put leading questions on the material part of the evidence that a witness intends to give against the accused. To do so infringes the right of the accused to have a fair trial which is enshrined in Article 21, this is not curable in irregularity. The right to have a fair trial, rigorously in terms of the Juvenile Justice Act which would involve procedural protection, is a fundamental right of the juvenile too.


The right to a fair trial is not just a right furnished in our country but it is also promised by numerous other statutes worldwide. Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights concerns the Right to a fair trial. The Article states that everyone is authorized to have a fair and general hearing within a rational time. The trial must be directed by the liberated and unprejudiced court of law. The African Charter of Human Rights shields the nobility of humans and prevents unfair treatment under Article 5. Article 6 of the same charter also assures separate liberty and safety to a person. The right to a fair trial is promised under Article 7 which embraces several rights like the Right to appeal to adequate jurisdiction, to defence, to be tried and to be assumed decent until proven guilty. Article 14 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) furnishes the right to a fair trial and Article 16 gives a right to acknowledgement before the law. Article 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), promises the right to a fair trial. The precautions related to a fair trial in the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) are further intended and elaborated than the provisions in UDHR.

Principles of Fair Trial –

  1. Presumption of integrity.
  2. Unbiased, unprejudiced, equitable and competent judge.
  3. Speedy and efficient trial.
  4. The trial should be in an open court.
  5. Proficiency of allegation on adequate occasions.
  6. The trial is to be conducted in the presence of inculpated.
  7. Evidence to be taken in presence of inculpated.
  8. Cross-examination of prosecution witnesses.
  9. Prohibition of vulnerability.
  10. Legal help to be provided.

In Hussainara Khatoon v. Home Secretary, State of Bihar1, the Supreme Court has laid great emphasis on speedy trial of criminal offences, and has emphasised: “It is implicit in the broad sweep and content of article 21.” A fair trial suggests a speedy trial. No strategy can be ‘judicious, fair or just’ unless that procedure establishes a speedy trial for the determination of the sin of such a person.

In Pratap Singh v. the State of Jharkhand2, the Supreme Court held that the right to have a fair trial strictly in terms of the Juvenile Justice Act which would include procedural safeguards is a fundamental right of the juvenile.

The advent of Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India3 strengthened the concept more. This is a landmark case of the post-emergency. It exhibits liberal propensities that have affected the Supreme Court in the matter of elucidating fundamental rights, particularly, Article 21. A great evolution has come about in the judicial perspective towards the guardianship of personal liberty after the agonizing experiences of the emergency from 1975 to 1977 when personal liberty had outstretched its nadir, as understandable by the Supreme Court. It performed as a catalytic agent for the evolution of the judicial opinion on Article 21 and has been enduring varied pay-off expansion of Constitutional Law in India.

Article 21 guarantees every person a right to life and personal liberty and uses four decisive expressions, viz., ‘life’, ‘personal liberty, ‘procedure’ and ‘law’.

  1. Life: Bhagwati J., has perceived in Francis Coralie v. Delhi4, that the right to life comprises the right to live with human dignity and all that goes down with it, namely, the sustained demands of life such as sufficient nutrition, clothing and shelter above their head, reading, writing and expressing oneself in different forms, mobility and mixing and commingling with the contemporary environment.
  2. Personal Liberty: M. C. Mehta v. Union of India5, the Supreme Court commented that the term personal liberty is not cast-off in a myopic sense but has been used in Article 21 as a concise term to incorporate within it all those diversity of rights of a person which go to make up the personal liberty of a man. The liberty of a person has to be stabilized with his responsibilities and obligations towards his comrade citizens.
  3. Law: Article 21 also takes in several species of law other than the laws enacted by the legislature. S. M. Sharma v. Shri Krishna Sinha6 said that the rules made by a House of the state legislature under Article 208 have been regulated as laying down procedures established by law for purposes of Article 21. Article 21 applies to the area of legislative privileges and, thus, a person cannot be imprisoned for breach of privilege of a legislature accepted following the procedure established by law. Proceedings held before the committee of privileges of a House of the legislature under the rules framed by it in pursuance of article 208 or article 118 are by procedures established by law.
  4. Procedure: It is now established after Maneka Gandhi that procedure for reasons of Article 21 has to be reasonable, fair and just. The expression procedure acclaimed by law expands both to substantive as well as procedural law. A course of action not fulfilling the features is no course of action at all in the eyes of Article 21. In Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation7, the Supreme Court has again highlighted that the procedure directed by law for the seizure of the right vested by Article 21 must be fair, prejudiced and reasonable. The procedure directed by law for seizing a person of his right to life must abide by the norms of justice and fair play. The procedure which is unjust and biased in situations of a case, allures the voice of unreasonableness, thereby deteriorating the law which highlights that procedure and consequently, the measures taken under it.
  5. The onus of proof: The presumption of innocence is a human right. Article 21 given its costly meaning not only protects life and liberty but also envisages a fair process. Similarly, under Article 21, the burden is never on the petitioner to prove that the procedure prescribed by law which deprives him of his life or personal liberty, is unjust, unreasonable or unfair. Bachan Singh is an authority to propose that in cases arising under Article 21 of the Constitution, if it appears that any person is being deprived of his life or his liberty, then the burden of proof establishes the State Constitutional validity of the applicable law.


Article 21 visualizes a fair trial, a fair procedure and a fair investigation. Such a right not only entitles the appellant to be informed of their fundamental right and statutory rights, but it is also mandatory on the part of the Special Public Prosecutor to record the necessary material before the judge to show the appeal. Fair investigation and fair trial are closely connected to the preservation of the fundamental rights of the accused under Article 21 of the constitution. Reasonableness would be determined by the facts and conditions of a case and the appraisal by the courts.


1 AIR 1979 SC 1360 : (1980) 1 SCC 81.

2 AIR (2005) 3 SCC 551 : AIR 2005 SC 2731.

3 AIR 1975 SC 775 : (1975) 3 SCC 836.

4 AIR 1981 SC 746, 753 : (198) 1 SCC 608.

5 (2003) 5 SCC 376 : AIR 2003 SC 3496.

6 AIR 1959 SC 395, 410-11.

7 AIR 198 SC 180, AT 196-197 : (1985) 3 SCC 545.

This article is written by Ashmita Dhumas, who has completed her BA LLB from Agra College and is currently doing a diploma in Corporate Law from Enhelion.

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