EXPLAINED: How India’s new criminal justice system will look like

These bills are in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s commitment of removing “all signs of slavery”.

NEW DELHI | Updated: 18 August, 2023 5:03 pm IST
The newly proposed laws are citizen-centric, not administration-centric: HM Amit Shah. ( representative image)

NEW DELHI: In a monumental stride, the Modi government is poised to reshape India’s criminal justice framework, ushering in a transformation that prioritizes justice over mere punishment.

The long-impending move involves the introduction of three bills –Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita Bill 2023, Bharatiya Sakshya Bill 2023, and Bharatiya Nagrik Suraksha Sanhita Bill 2023 – tabled in the Lok Sabha by Union home minister Amit Shah last week.

These bills are in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s commitment of removing “all signs of slavery”.

The Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita Bill 2023, Bharatiya Sakshya Bill 2023, and Bharatiya Nagrik Suraksha Sanhita Bill 2023 will replace the Indian Penal Code 1860, the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, and the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) 1973, respectively. The CrPC, a product of the British Parliament dating back to 1898, has been operating in an amended form to date.

“These three Acts were created to strengthen and uphold British rule, serving the purpose of punishment rather than delivering justice,” said Shah while introducing the bill on August 11, adding that the essence of the newly proposed laws is centered on safeguarding citizens’ rights and ensuring a just society.

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He further said: “The objective will not be to punish anyone but to give justice and in this process punishment will be given where it is required to create a sense of prevention of crime.”

The trailblazing reform initiated by HM Shah encompasses the following key aspects:

Revamping core legislation: For decades, there have been demands to repeal the three criminal justice codes and instead come up with new rules that align with Indian values and ethos. Experts have often blamed the British-era codes for faulty delivery of justice.

The proposed Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita entails 356 provisions. It not only rescinds 22 provisions of the IPC but also proposes modifications to 175 existing provisions while introducing nine new sections. The Bharatiya Sakshya Bill encompasses 170 sections, abolishing five existing provisions of the Evidence Act, amending 23 provisions, and introducing a new provision. The Bharatiya Nagrik Suraksha Sanhita, comprising a total of 533 sections, replaces nine provisions of the CrPC and suggests modifications to 107 provisions while introducing nine new provisions.

Enhancing efficiency: The comprehensive bills seek to expedite the dispensation of justice and bolster the integrity of evidence, ultimately striving to augment conviction rates and reduce pending cases.

Notably, the new evidence rules sanction the use of electronic means for appearances by witnesses, accused individuals, experts, and victims, attributing equal legal weight to electronic evidence as that of documents.

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Inclusion of key offences: Several crimes such as terrorism, corruption, mob lynching and other organized crimes, and exploiting women by cheating have been defined clearly for the first time in the law.

These laws also spell out punishment of crimes like armed insurgency, subversive activities, and separatism, challenging the unity, sovereignty and integrity of India. The new rules facilitate the lodging of police complaints at any police station, irrespective of the crime’s location.

Some groundbreaking steps like trial in absentia have also been introduced. A person declared fugitive by a sessions court judge will be tried and sentenced in his absence, no matter where in the world he may be hiding. And if the fugitive has to appeal against punishment, he will have to follow Indian law.

The repeal of sedition law is among the high demanded steps introduced in these laws.

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