Overhauling Indian Criminal Justice System

The criminal justice in India has been governed by the British era laws since 1860
"The proposed bill permits witnesses, accused, experts and victims to appear via electronic means. It also gives electronic evidence the same legal value as documents."
"The proposed bill permits witnesses, accused, experts and victims to appear via electronic means. It also gives electronic evidence the same legal value as documents."File

As you know that the Monsoon session of the Indian Parliament has just concluded. There has been a very big development. The Union Home Minister tabled three new Bills in the Lok Sabha to completely reform and overhaul India's Criminal Justice System.

Since last 160 years, we have been governed by the British era colonial criminal laws and because of the various issues associated with these criminal laws,  there has been a long standing demand to reform the criminal justice system in the country.

The Bhartiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS) will repeals 22 provisions of IPC, proposes changes to 175 existing provisions and introduces nine new sections. It contains total 356 provisions.

The Bharatiya Sakshya Bill (BSB) repeals five existing provisions of the Indian Evidence Act, proposes changes to 23 provisions and introduces one new provision. It contains 170 sections in total. The proposed bill permits witnesses, accused, experts and victims to appear via electronic means. It also gives electronic evidence the same legal value as documents.

The Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita (BNSS) repeals nine provisions of the CrPC, proposes changes to 107 provisions and introduces nine new provisions. The bill contains a total of 533 sections.

These proposed legislations will not just repeal British era laws and remove the colonial hangover but it will also bring about a transformative change in our criminal landscape. The focus is on delivering prompt justice to the victim than focusing just on punishment and punitive justice.

Under British era colonial laws, the focus of criminal justice system was largely based on punitive justice that is focusing just on excessive punishment to the accused. There was no victim centric approach, no focus on human rights, no focus on sensitising police and effectiveness of police investigation. So, all these changes are likely to be brought out through these new legislations in order to improve the delivery of justice and protect the victims and to ensure that accused get the right kind of punishment, which will help in reformative justice instead of punitive justice.

In a modern civilised democracy, the focus of the criminal justice system should be reforming the criminals.

The criminal justice in India has been governed by the British era laws since 1860 which are completely outdated. These laws are not suited in the modern context. No doubt,  these laws have been amended post independence several times to account for modern crimes and changes happening in the modern society, modern economy and technology but the very spirit of these laws is rooted in colonial thinking. So, we can imagine in what context these laws were brought out.

Lord Macaulay who is considered to be the architect of these laws, drafted these laws when the focus of the British government was to stifle dissent, to snatch fundamental democratic rights and oppress the Indian people in order to serve the interests of the British Crown.

These laws were never meant for a democratic country but these laws were framed to give excessive powers , so that Britain colonial government can use force to curb the Indian Freedom Struggle. The Indian government post independence continued with these laws due to lack of alternative.

These laws have been ineffective in tackling crimes and maintaining public order. There are several provisions where the police are given tremendous powers when it comes at arrest, search and seizure and even when it comes to file a charge sheet. These extraordinary powers were often misused leading to violation of human rights.

It has also led to harassment of common people by the police which works in nexus with the ruling party. In fact, as part of the debate on police reforms in India; one of the biggest and main recommendation is to remove colonial era criminal laws and replace these with modern criminal justice system.

The criminal justice system represent the most direct link between the state and the citizens. The citizens have a high line of exposure to the police and criminal justice system. In fact, this represents the very face of the state.

Let's take a brief look at some of the important provisions and reforms that have been suggested. under the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita Bill, 2023, capital punishment for mob lynching has been provided as the maximum sentence. Earlier,  there was no provision to deal with the crime like mob lynching.

These legislations give a lot of priority to women and children. There is a lot of focus on women safety and dealing with crimes like rape, molestation, etc. In fact, an entire chapter has been dedicated to women and children safety issues. There is a provision of ten years jail for a man who has sexual intercourse with women on the basis of false promise of marriage.

The Sedition laws have been repealed as it was earlier reported to have been misused by the ruling party to calm down its critics and opponents.
The new legislation also define for the first time major security related offences such as terrorism,  organised crime, separatism, armed rebellion and any challenge to the sovereignty of the nation. There provisions were not defined in IPC.

In order to ensure that there is no manipulation done by the police later, it will be now compulsory to videogragh the statement of victims in any case of sexual harassment and in case of search and seizure.

There will be maximum limit of 180 days to file a charge sheet. The police will get 90 days to file charge sheet and another 90 days can be granted by the court, but it can not exceed that.

There are many other reforms such as remittance of death penalty into life sentence, Zero FIR, deemed sanctions, compulsory forensic collection of evidences, etc.
An overhaul of the criminal laws was long overdue in the country owing to the colonial origins of the system. However, the pros and cons of the changes must be weighed and consulted with all stakeholders before making this huge transition.

Shabir Ahmad is a UPSC aspirant from Raiyar Doodhpathri.

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