By: Dr. Satyawan Saurabh
On 11 August 2023, three new bills were introduced in Parliament to replace the 164-year-old laws of the British era. The three laws to be replaced are the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), and the Indian Evidence Act. The three new bills being introduced are the Indian Judicial Code Bill, the Indian Civil Defense Code Bill, and the Indian Evidence Bill. “The laws that will be repealed… The focus of those laws was to protect and strengthen the British administration, the idea being to punish and not to dispense justice. By replacing them, the new three laws would bring in a sense of protecting the rights of the people”
Its purpose is to dispense justice rather than to punish. These will address issues such as “terrorism, mob-lynching and crimes against women”. The country’s criminal justice system, which followed British-made laws from 1860 to 2023, is set for significant changes as three laws are set to be changed. This change will bring significant changes in the criminal justice system of the country. Section 150 of the Indian Code Security Bill contemplates the recommendation of the Law Commission of India to increase the alternative punishment for sedition from 3 to 7 years. The commission has suggested retaining the 153-year-old sedition law to avoid harming the country’s security and unity. The commission also proposes to change the sedition law by amending IPC section 124A (sedition law), which currently allows for life imprisonment or up to 3 years, alternatively up to 7 years. This will enable the courts to decide punishment based on severity by a new provision on mob lynching, providing for imprisonment of seven years or imprisonment for life or death; enabling speedy justice through video trials, e-filing of FIRs; expansion of the definition of sedition; bringing corruption, terrorism, and organized crime under penal laws; introducing community service and solitary confinement as new forms of punishment; to hold hearings in the absence of the accused; and expanding the scope of offenses against women relating to sexual relations using “deceptive means” – the new Bills provide significant changes to criminal jurisprudence.
Section 44 of the Indian Judicial Code Bill allows self-defense against deadly attacks such as mob attacks. Section 31 says that it is not an offense to cause unintentional harm using communication with good intentions. Under the Indian Civil Defense Code, if the accused has served half of the maximum sentence during the trial, he gets bail. Some crimes aim to be gender-neutral. The Indian Judicial Code also includes offenses relating to terrorism and organized crime. With the introduction of these bills, there will be a lot of improvement in the judicial system of the country.
The criminal justice system is a replica of British colonial jurisprudence, which was designed to rule the nation, not serve the citizens. The criminal justice system aimed to protect the rights of the innocent and punish the guilty, but nowadays the system has become an instrument of oppression of the common people. According to the Economic Survey, about 3.5 crore cases are pending in the judicial system, especially in the district and subordinate courts, giving credence to the adage that “justice delayed is justice denied”. India has the largest number of undertrial prisoners in the world.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB)-Prison Statistics India, 67.2% of our total prison population is undertrial prisoners. Corruption, heavy workload, and accountability of the police are major hindrances in the delivery of speedy and transparent justice. The Madhava Menon Committee submitted its report in 2007, suggesting various recommendations for reforms in the Criminal Justice System of India (CJSI). The Malimath Committee Report submitted its report to the CJSI in 2003. The committee thought that the existing system “is heavily in favour of the accused and does not focus adequately on providing justice to the victims of crime”. It provided various recommendations to be made in the CJSI, which were not implemented.
What should be the framework of reform? The causes of victimization should be given prime consideration while reforming laws to recognize the rights of crime victims. For example the introduction of the victim and witness protection schemes, use of victim impact statements, increased victim participation in criminal trials, and increased access of victims to compensation and restitution. The current classification of crimes should be guided by the principles of criminal jurisprudence, which have changed significantly in the last four decades. For example, criminal liability can be better classified to specify the degree of punishment.
New forms of punishment such as community service orders, restitution orders, and other aspects of restorative and reformative justice may also be brought under its purview. The classification of crimes should be done in a manner conducive to the management of crimes in the future. Many chapters of IPC are overloaded in many places. The chapters on offenses against public servants, contempt of authority, trespass to public peace, and trespass may be redefined and narrowed. Guiding principles need to be evolved after adequate debate before declaring an act as an offense.
Unprincipled criminalization not only leads to the creation of new crimes on unscientific grounds but also leads to arbitrariness in the criminal justice system.