New dawn for India’s criminal justice system

NEW DELHI | Updated: 22 December, 2023 10:51 am IST

The Parliament’s passage of the three revised criminal law bills, namely Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS), Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita (BNSS), and Bharatiya Sakshya Sanhita (BSS), is a historic and commendable step towards reforming and decolonizing India’s criminal justice system. The bills, which replace the outdated and oppressive IPC, CrPC, and Indian Evidence Act, aim to create a legal framework that is more just, humane, and responsive to the needs and aspirations of the people of India.

The bills, introduced by Home Minister Amit Shah in August and defended in the Lok Sabha, reflect the vision and leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has been committed to transforming India into a modern and progressive nation. The bills are based on the principles of justice, equity, and good conscience, and seek to balance the rights and duties of the citizens and the state. The bills also incorporate the best practices and innovations from various countries and regions, such as the UK, the US, Singapore, and the European Union.

The BNS, a successor to the IPC, preserves the core of the IPC with 358 sections, streamlining and rationalizing criminal law. Differing from the IPC with its 511 sections, the BNS removes outdated colonial-era provisions and introduces contemporary offences like cybercrime, terrorism, sexual harassment, and hate speech. This adaptation is designed to tackle evolving challenges and threats in the interconnected and digital world.

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The BNSS, taking the place of the CrPC, establishes the framework for handling the investigation, trial, and appeal processes in criminal cases. With a focus on expeditious and equitable justice, the BNSS strives to safeguard the rights and dignity of not only the accused but also the victims and witnesses. Additionally, the BNSS provides the police and the courts with the authority to address the intricate and ever-changing landscape of crime, allowing for the utilization of contemporary and scientific approaches in investigation and evidence gathering.

Taking the place of the Indian Evidence Act, the BSS establishes guidelines and principles governing the admissibility and relevance of evidence in criminal cases. Its objective is to elevate the trustworthiness and credibility of evidence while curbing the potential for misuse and manipulation. Emphasizing the significance of digital and electronic evidence, the BSS acknowledges and incorporates advanced technologies like biometrics, DNA, and video conferencing for the presentation and examination of evidence.

Enacting these bills aligns with the government’s commitment to decolonize the legal system, fostering a reflection of Indian civilization’s values and ethos. This legislative move goes beyond superficial changes, representing a profound transformation in substance and spirit. It is crucial to note that the bills aren’t motivated by linguistic or Hindutva considerations; rather, they align with a broader national and democratic agenda. Respectful of India’s diversity and plurality, these bills avoid imposing uniformity or hegemony. Importantly, far from posing a threat to dissent or opposition, the bills stand as a testament to the fortification of democracy and the rule of law.

These bills mark not the conclusion but the initial stride in reforming and decolonizing the criminal justice system. While not flawless, they stand as progressive measures open to future refinement and amendment. Rather than signifying closure, these bills signal the commencement of a new era for India’s criminal justice system. They present a historic opportunity and responsibility for both the people and the government of India to craft a legal system that is not only just and humane but also attuned to the needs and aspirations of the nation.

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