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Rights And Wrongs: Decoding The Impact Of Cutting-Edge Criminal Law Reforms

This article delves into the imperative need for a paradigm shift in India's criminal justice system by exploring the ongoing discourse on the replacement of existing criminal laws. Starting with a historical backdrop, it sheds light on the deficiencies within the current legal framework and emphasizes the call for reform. Proposals for change are dissected, considering the viewpoints of legal experts, public sentiment, and international comparisons.

The article also contemplates the potential impact of revamped laws on society, while acknowledging the challenges in their implementation. As India contemplates this significant legal transition, the article navigates through the complexities, legal considerations, and ethical dimensions, providing a comprehensive overview of the evolving landscape of criminal legislation in the country.

In a landmark development during the winter session of 2023, the Indian Parliament passed three pivotal bills heralding a radical transformation in the country's criminal justice system. The Bhartiya Nyaya (Second) Sanhita, 2023 ("BNS"), Bhartiya Sakhshya (Second) Bill, 2023 ("BSB"), and Bhartiya Nagrik Suraksha (Second) Sanhita, 2023 ("BNSS") received the presidential assent on December 25th, marking a significant departure from laws instituted by the British colonial rulers.

These bills, introduced to replace legislation enacted during the colonial era, particularly the Indian Penal Code of 1860, Indian Evidence Act of 1872, and Criminal Procedure Code of 1973, are poised to eliminate the vestiges of British influence, as stated by India's Home Minister. The move is characterized as an effort to shed the remnants of a bygone era, symbolically removing the 'slavery touch' associated with the colonial legal framework.

This article explores the implications of these bills, examining the motivations behind their introduction, the specific changes they bring, and their potential impact on India's legal landscape. As the nation ushers in this new legal era, it prompts a critical evaluation of the evolving dynamics within the Indian criminal justice system.

Timeline of the Bill:
These bills have been diligently articulated after large-scale consultations with various stakeholders, including Supreme Court and High Court Judges, Law Universities, Chief Ministers, and Governors, among others, in addition to encompassing counsel from committees.

The new set of criminal laws proposed by the Central Government are directed at transforming the criminal justice delivery landscape of India. Thus, this has prompted questions about whether the current laws have been abused to the point that they need to be altered. It also raises queries about the details of the changes that appear in the new Bills.

This blog will endeavor to deal with the proposed new laws meant to replace the IPC, CrPc and the Indian Evidence Act and outline in what way the new laws are different from their antiquated counterparts. In the process, the blog will touch upon the scope of the proposed new laws in reforming India's criminal justice system, which was in dire need of changes since the colonial era.

Why This Seemingly Immediate Transformation of India's Criminal Laws?
Crime, which is usually defined as actions, mistakes, or illegal activities that can be punished by the law, and criminal laws go hand in hand in every community. The phrase "criminal law" covers a wide range of laws. The main goal of enforcing any criminal law is to make sure the guilty party bears the weight of their wrongdoings and that the aggrieved party gets justice through well-established legal processes.

Criminal law is the set of laws that deal with offences such as theft, murder, sexual assault, threats, and other illegal acts. Furthermore, it establishes the due procedure for conducting trials of individuals convicted of offenses.

The increasing crime rate and progressively sophisticated nature of delinquencies owing to digital aids, necessitated for legislative changes that could incorporate stringent and updated procedural and substantive measures to suppress and discourage such actions. The primary motive for this massive overhaul was rooted in the realization that the existent criminal laws were chiefly remnants of colonialism and required major amendments. In the past, as a nation, we were the only ones who took on these rules spawning from the British Parliament. They own up to 475 historical mentions in the UK Parliament, London Gazette, Privy Council, and the British Crown. This justification shows that this much-awaited change was necessary.

A Brief History of India's Criminal Justice System
Criminal laws in India have its roots in the Vedic time and the rule of Hindu and Muslim monarchs. However, it was during Britain's period as a colonial power that the drive towards systematization really gained steam in India. Hence, the modern criminal justice system is heavily influenced by the English legal system.

These practices, which are reasonable and upto- date, make up a big part of the criminal laws that are still in place today. They are similar to the ones that were made when Britain was in charge of the colonies Numerous facets of India's criminal justice system predate its independence from the British. The Indian Penal Code (IPC) was modeled after the English Criminal Code and went into effect in 1860.

First enacted in 1861 and revised in 1973, the Code of Criminal Procedure establishes rules for criminal proceedings.
In 1872, the Indian Evidence Act, which was modeled after English law, was passed. Since it was first proposed in 1872, the Act has not undergone significant changes.

The NN Vohra Committee brought attention to the issue of political corruption in 1993. In 2000, a group led by Justice V.S. Malimath proposed modifications to ensure that criminal offenders and their victims were treated fairly; by 2003, the Justice Malimath group had published a report with 158 recommendations.

What Changes Will The New Bills Bring To IPC, CrPc & Evidence Act?
Bhartiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita Bill (BNSS), is poised to replace the CrPC and will now have 533 sections. A total of 160 sections from the existent law have been changed, 9 new sections have been added and 9 sections have been repealed.

Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita Bill (BNS), which will replace the Indian Penal Code, will have 356 sections instead of the earlier 511 sections, 175 sections have been changed, 8 new sections have been Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita Bill (BNS), which will replace the Indian Penal Code, will have 356 sections instead of the earlier 511 sections, 175 sections have been changed, 8 new sections have been added and 22 sections have been repealed Bharatiya Sakshya Bill (BSB), which will replace the Evidence Act, will now have 170 sections instead of the earlier 167, 23 sections have been changed, 1 new section has been added and 5 have been repealed
Three archetypal laws showed signs of servitude and were adopted by the British Parliament.

As per the PIB date, some of the major changes proposed in the new laws are:
Digital Records:
Consistent with digitization of record-keeping, the BSB expands the definition of documents to include "electronic or digital records, e-mails, server logs, computers, smart phones, laptops, SMS, websites, locational evidence, mails, messages on devices" (PIB).

This law contains provisions for the complete digitization of the criminal justice system, from FIR to case diary, charge sheet and judgment.

E-FIR requirement is also a part of the new bills, and families of the arrested persons will be updated online.

In addition, videotaping of the search and seizure process has been made mandatory in order for the evidence to be admissible in court and prevent the innocent from being implicated wrongly.

Victim statements in cases of sexual abuse will be mandatory, and video recordings would be essential for sexual harassment cases.

Forensic Science and Evidence Collection:
National Forensic Science University aims to boost forensic science and increase the conviction ratio.

Crime scenes involving offences punishable by 7 years or more will now require to have a forensics team present in order for police to collect scientific evidence.
As per the Union Home Minister, Sh. Amit Shah, this opens up the professional field to around 33,000 forensic science experts, aiming to bolster the conviction ratio to over 90%.

Police Accountability:
  • It will be mandatory for the police to provide the status of the complaint within 90 days, and subsequently every 15 days, to the complaint.
  • A 90-day limit for logging charge sheets, with the potential for a 90-day extension has been proposed in the new laws.
  • The investigations have to be completed within 180 days, resulting in the subsequent commencement of a due trail.
  • Furthermore, the proposed laws seek to safeguard the rights of citizens by requiring that victims be heard before any sentence of seven years or more is overturned.
Reducing Pendency of Cases:
To reduce the burden of pending cases in the District Courts, the BNSS bill proposes to allow summary trials for offences that carry punishment of up to 3 years.
As per the Union Home Minister, this provision alone can result in over 40% of cases to end, that are pending in the in sessions courts.

In addition to this, courts would be required to notify the accused of the charges within 60 days, the judge must issue a verdict within 30 days after the conclusion of arguments (instead of allowing the case to linger on for years), and the order must be posted online within seven days.

Stricter Punishments and Safeguarding of Women and Children:
This law now includes new provisions for severe punishment of transnational gangs and organised crime, as well as a provision for the confiscation of the property of declared criminals.

For the first time, sexual intercourse under the pretext of "marriage, employment, promotion and false identity" has been made a punishable offence with a provision for 20 years of imprisonment and life imprisonment in all cases pertaining to gang rape (PIB).

New laws protect women and children more comprehensively, ensuring offenders face stern consequences, also preventing police abuse of authority.

The maximum sentence for crimes committed in the presence of minors has been increased from seven to ten years in prison, and provisions have been included to increase fines for a variety of offences.

Petty crimes like chain or mobile snatching from women will also be now punishable offenses with specific provisions, as per the new bills.

Death Penalty:
The new laws bring in provison of capital punishment for crimes meted out to girls below the age of 18. Mob lynching also carries with it a potential death sentence, or seven years in jail or life imprisonment, as per the severity of the case.

The Sedition Law:
The new clause 150 of the BNS bill retains offence of sedition, under Section 124A of the existent IPC, albeit with new terminology and a more extensive definition of "Acts endangering sovereignty unity and integrity of India".

In accordance with the June recommendation by the Law Commission of India, the 2023 bill proposes to increase the maximum prison sentence for this offense under the IPC from three to seven years. However, under the current bill, the maximum sentence is still life imprisonment.

The crucial change, however, under Section 150 of the BNS bill, is the removing of the provision that permitted a person convicted of sedition to escape with merely a fine. Punishment under this section of the bill includes either a fine or a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

For the first time, this law defines terrorist acts including armed insurgency, subversive activities, separatism, and undermining India's unity, sovereignty, and integrity.

Home Testimony for Rape Victims:
Allowing rape victims to provide testimony at home is a progressive step towards recognizing the sensitivity of such cases and prioritizing the well-being of survivors. Ensuring the voluntary nature of this option and providing adequate support mechanisms for victims is essential to prevent any unintended negative consequences.

Transparency in Police Searches:
The mandatory video recording of police searches enhances transparency and accountability, potentially reducing instances of misconduct during law enforcement operations.

Adequate training, oversight, and adherence to recording protocols are imperative to realize the full benefits of this provision. Challenges may arise in ensuring consistent implementation across diverse situations.

What is Worrying?
Extended Police Custody Powers:
The extension of police custody powers, allowing authorities to seek up to 15 days of custody within 60 to 90 days of arrest, raises significant concerns about individual rights and potential misuse. While the intention may be to facilitate thorough investigations, the deviation from current practices brings forth the risk of prolonged custody without sufficient checks and balances.

This has the potential to infringe upon the principle of 'innocent until proven guilty' and may lead to situations where individuals are held in custody for extended periods before formal charges are filed. Striking a balance between effective investigations and protecting individual liberties is crucial to avoid any abuse of this expanded authority.

Why new hit-and-run law has provoked protests by truckers, bus drivers Truckers across India launched a three-day protest against a provision dealing with 'hit and- run' accidents in the new set of criminal laws. They have demanded the immediate withdrawal of the new law

In several parts of the country sitting in protest over a provision of the new criminal law codes dealing with the issue of hit-and-run accidents. There have been reports of protestors blocking highways and roads in several parts of the country and refusing to ply their vehicles

The ongoing nationwide truckers protest has sparked fears of shortages at petrol and diesel stations in the country, leading to panic buying. After some days, visuals came in from several parts of the country showing people queuing up at petrol and diesel pumps worried about an impending fuel shortage.

But what are the truck drivers protesting against exactly? Well, it's one provision of the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, which was recently brought in by the government. The Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita replaces the British-era Indian Penal Code. It carries a provision related to hit-and-run accidents, and it is this provision against which truck drivers are up in arms.

According to the new penal law, any driver who causes the death of a person by rash and negligent driving and flees from the spot without reporting the accident to the authorities could be jailed for up to 10 years and/or be fined.

"Whoever causes death of any person by rash and negligent driving of vehicle not amounting to culpable homicide, and escapes without reporting it to a police officer or a magistrate soon after the incident, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description of a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine," Section 106 (2) of the new Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita says:

The article presents a nuanced analysis of the recently passed criminal law bills in India, offering a balanced assessment that delves into both positive and concerning aspects of the legislative changes. On the positive side, the legislation is commended for its efforts to enhance accessibility, fairness, and efficiency within the criminal justice system. Noteworthy features include provisions empowering citizens to file zero FIRs, ensuring timely police investigations, and introducing transparent judicial processes. The article aptly recognizes the importance of victim support and the emphasis on transparency in law enforcement operations.

However, the critical analysis doesn't shy away from highlighting potential drawbacks and challenges associated with the proposed legal framework. Concerns are raised about the extension of police custody powers, with a call for careful scrutiny to prevent potential misuse. The apprehension surrounding trial proceedings in the absence of the accused and the perceived infringement on the right to privacy through the seizure of digital devices is articulated as a valid point of contention.

Moreover, the article brings attention to omissions in the legislation, such as the failure to criminalize adultery or gay sex, prompting questions about the alignment of the legal framework with societal values. The omission, in line with past Supreme Court rulings, is noted as a potential inconsistency. The gender-centric nature of the Bhartiya Nyaya (Second) Sanhita, 2023, is scrutinized, particularly in addressing sexual offenses. The article raises valid concerns about explicit gendering of rape laws and the exclusion of critical aspects like Marital Rape.

In conclusion, the critical perspective prompts a re-evaluation of the proposed legal changes, underlining concerns about potential gender bias within the framework. The article encourages ongoing scrutiny and discussion to ensure that the legislative reforms contribute to a fair, just, and inclusive legal system in India.

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