In a major step towards revamping the criminal justice system in the country, the Centre brought in three keys bills, replacing the British era criminal laws with several changes, like the removal of sedition law, prescribing punishment for lynching, several women and child-centric provisions, and digitalising the justice process and reducing its time.
Home Minister Amit Shah introduced Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita Bill, Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita, Bhartiya Sakshya Adhiniyam, 2023, to replace– Indian Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Code, and Evidence Act, respectively. These new laws are expected to ensure speedy justice, make the legal process less taxing for the victims and address the situation according to the times.
By bringing the laws a day after the no-confidence motion was defeated, and ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 10th and last Independence Day speech of this tenure, the government has given a political message too. “We will remove all signs of ghulami (slavery),” Shah said while introducing the bills on the last day of the Lok Sabha.
The prime minister is likely to refer to these changes which impact the lives of all citizens in his Independence Day speech. The BJP may also include these wide-ranging laws in its election campaign for 2024 polls.
Shah said under the old laws, there were references to colonial era terminology and institutions at 475 places, with words like the Crown, British parliament, jury, and Lahore government, which have now been removed.
These changes have been made in the 75th year celebrations of the country’s Independence, and when India will start its journey from the 75th year to the 100th year, Shah said.
Shah said the these laws were brought in to strengthen the British government and establish their rule. But the soul of the new legislation is to protect the citizens as per the constitution of this country. It is not to penalise but to give justice and penalties necessary to stop the crimes, he added.
Unlike the previous IPC where the main sections were related to the establishment of the government rule, the new legislation has its first section dedicated to women, followed by crimes against a person. “This has been done to make the person central to the spirit of law; against the earlier laws where murder was in section 302, now it will be in 99,” Shah said.
The IPC, which had 511 sections, will now have 356; 175 sections have been changed, eight new ones introduced, while 22 have been removed.
The IPC was introduced on the recommendation of the first law commission, set up in 1834, under the chairmanship of Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay, after which IPC, 1860 was set up. It continues till today.
The new legislation, Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita Bill, aims at “simplifying legal procedure so that ease of living is ensured to the common man. The government also considered making existing laws relevant to the contemporary situation and providing speedy justice to the common man.”
The bill replacing IPC also proposes to provide community service as one of the punishments for petty offences. The offences against women and children, murder, and offences against the State have been given precedence. The various offences have been made gender-neutral.
“In order to deal effectively with the problem of organised crimes and terrorist activities, new offences of terrorist acts and organised crime have been added in the bill with deterrent punishments. A new offence on acts of secession, armed rebellion, subversive activities, separatist activities or endangering the sovereignty or unity and integrity of India has also been added. The fines and punishment for various offences have also been suitably enhanced,” the statement said.
Shah said provisions have been made to allow trials through video conferences, compulsory visits of forensic teams for cases where punishment is over seven years, charge sheet within 90 days, and ensuring that a decision is given in three years.
Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita will replace the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, which regulated the procedure for arrest, investigation, inquiry and trial of offences under the Indian Penal Code. Under the existing CrPc, delays in the delivery of justice due to complex legal procedures, large pendency of cases in courts, low conviction rates, low level of use of technology in legal system, delays in the investigation system, complex procedures, and inadequate use of forensics were the biggest hurdles in speedy delivery of justice.
Shah proposed to repeal the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 and enact a new law, Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita, 2023. It provides for the use of technology and forensic science in the investigation of crimes and furnishing and lodging of information and service of summons through electronic communication. Specific time-lines have been prescribed for time-bound investigation, trial and pronouncement of judgments.
Citizen-centric approach has been adopted for the supply of copy of the first information report to the victim and to inform them about the progress of the investigation, including by digital means. In cases where the punishment is seven years or more, the victim shall be given an opportunity to be heard before the withdrawal of the case by the government. Summary trial has been made mandatory for petty and less serious cases. The accused persons may be examined through electronic means, like video conferencing. The magisterial system has also been streamlined.
Bhartiya Sakshya Adhiniyam will replace Evidence Act enacted in the year 1872 which governs laws relating to evidence. Keeping in mind the changed times, the new legislation provides that 'evidence' includes any information given electronically, which would permit the appearance of witnesses, accused, experts, and victims through electronic means.
Shah referred the three bills to the parliamentary standing committee for wider consultations.