India court sets deadline for politicians' cases

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Associated Press

Posted on March 10, 2014 at 6:32 AM

Updated Monday, Mar 10 at 6:35 AM

NEW DELHI (AP) — India's top court instructed lower courts on Monday to reach verdicts within one year in cases in which lawmakers are accused of grave crimes, in an attempt to reduce the number who win re-election during drawn-out trials.

The Supreme Court order is part of its attempt to clean up India's electoral system by making it more difficult for politicians with criminal cases to contest elections.

Last July, the Supreme Court barred lawmakers from running in elections if they were found guilty of offenses carrying a jail term of at least two years.

Lawmakers can contest elections while being tried, but cannot hold public office once they are convicted of serious offenses such as corruption, rape or murder. India's notoriously slow legal system has allowed many politicians accused of serious graft to be re-elected.

The Supreme Court ruled that lower courts should expedite trials so politicians are quickly acquitted or disqualified.

Justice R.M. Lodha said court proceedings against lawmakers should be conducted without breaks or inordinate delays.

The court said lawmakers often continue to hold public office despite being accused of grave offenses because trials stretch out for years.

The court said judges would have to explain any delays.

After the July ruling, several politicians were disqualified from running in elections. Among them was Laloo Prasad Yadav, a former chief minister of Bihar state, who was convicted of embezzling state funds.

Nationwide elections begin early next month. India's Congress party-led government faces anger over a slew of corruption scandals that auditors say lost the country billions of dollars.

Several politicians accused of serious corruption are currently free on bail. It wasn't immediately clear whether they would be allowed to contest the upcoming elections, which start April 7.

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