The Centre has introduced three new Bills in the Lok Sabha on 11.08.2023 that propose a complete overhaul of the country’s criminal justice system. The three Bills are set to replace the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860; the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), 1973 and the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.
(I) IPC is set to be replaced by the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, 2023 (BNS).
(II) The CrPC will be replaced by the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita, 2023 (BNSS).
(III) The Indian Evidence Act will be replaced by the Bharatiya Sakshya Bill, 2023 (BSB).
The three proposed statutes were referred to a Parliamentary Standing Committee and quantitatively, the bills only change some 20%-25% of the law in the three current statutes. Introducing the bills, Minister Amit Shah said the bills fulfil one of the “panch pruns” (five vows) announced by the Prime Minister on August 15, 2022, to “erase all the signs of British slavery”.
Need for new Bills:
(A) Colonial Legacy- From 1860 to 2023, the country’s criminal justice system functioned as per the laws made by the British and the laws of that time contain archaic language and concepts that might not be suitable for today’s age.
(B) Simplification and Streamlining- The new Bills aim to simplify and streamline the criminal acts which can enhance transparency and understanding of the laws.
(C) Advancement of Technology- The rapid advancement of technology has introduced new dimensions to crime, evidence, and investigation.
Key highlights of the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, 2023 (Indian Penal Code)
1) The Union Government proposed to expand the definition of “terrorism” under the penal law by bringing within its fold threats to “economic security” and “monetary stability” of the country.
2) Two new provisions will be introduced that will define “cruelty” against women in a marital relationship.
3) Penalising the person for publication of Court proceedings that may disclose the identity of a rape victim.
4) It repeals the offense of sedition, which was widely criticized as a colonial relic that curbed free speech and dissent.
5) Introduction of community service as one of the punishments for “petty” offences, including for criminal defamation, public servants engaged in trade, drunkards creating nuisance in public places, those attempting suicide etc.
Key highlights of the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita, 202 (Code of Criminal Procedure)
i) Introduction of time bound investigation for speedy justice.
ii) Video recording of statement of sexual assault victims to be made mandatory.
iii) The bill mandates thatpolice must inform about the status of a complaint in 90 days, which can enhance accountability and transparency.
Key highlights of the Bharatiya Sakshya Bill, 2023 (Evidence Act)
a) The Indian Evidence Act will be replaced by Bill which proposes changes to 23 provisions and introduces one new provision. It contains 170 sections in total.
b) The Bill permits the admissibility of an electronic or digital record as evidence and will have legal validity as documentary evidence.
c) It recognizesexpert opinion as a form of evidence such as medical opinion, handwriting analysis etc., which can assist in establishing facts or circumstances relevant to a case.
Issues in current proposed reforms to the Criminal Justice system-
(A) Potential Violation of Human Rights:
(1) The BSB allows confessions made before a police officer to be admissible as evidence under Section 27A, which could increase the risk of custodial torture and coercion.
(2) The BNSS also gives wide powers to the police to arrest, search, seize, and detain without any judicial oversight or safeguards.
(B) Lack of Coherence and Consistency:
(1) The BNSS also creates a new category of offences called “social welfare offences”that can be dealt with by imposing fines or community service, but does not specify which offences fall under this category.
(2) The BSB also introduces a new standard of proof for convictionfrom “beyond reasonable doubt” to “clear and convincing evidence”, which is not defined or explained in the bill.
The proposed 3 bills aims to modernize and simplify the criminal laws, which are outdated and complex. The reform will make the laws more in tune with the Indian spirit and ethos, and reflect the changing nature of crime, society, and technology. The reforms have taken some progressive steps by making some of the sexual offences gender neutral, by including men and transgenders as potential victims and offenders, along-with women. Also, the reforms will empower the citizens, by allowing them to register a police complaint in any police station, regardless of the location where the crime took place. The reforms aims to provide for effective protection of the constitutional rights of citizens, such as right to life, liberty, dignity, privacy, and fair trial. Thus the new Bills follow a liberal and modern approach to shape up the criminal justice system of India.
The Indian Lawyer