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The End of IPC? Indianisation of Criminal Justice System

India's legal framework has long been anchored by the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), and the Indian Evidence Act. It’s no secret that these laws effected during the British Rule have played a significant role in shaping the country's criminal justice system but as India marches forward into the 21st century, does the law ministry of India need to bring about an amendment in constitution to reform the existing laws to better address the evolving legal and social landscape of the country? Is there a need to “indianise'' criminal justice? Or is the IPC, Evidence Act and CrPC perfectly fine for the time-being?


Such are the questions being raised in this context where the Central Government is contemplating the repeal and replacement of these age-old laws with the all-new Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita, and Bharatiya Sakshya Bill.



What is Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita?

Introduced in Lok Sabha on August 11, 2023 as a new bill, the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita aims to overhaul the criminal justice system by modernising and streamlining the existing IPC and CrPC. The bill redefines the meaning of several important terms like “Sedition”, “Terrorism” and “Organised Crime”. It also increases grounds of penalty for stricter compliance. For example, it suggests a separate penalty for murder committed by five or more people on the specific grounds of race, caste, sex, place of birth, language, or personal belief.


What is Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita?

Replacing the Code of Criminal Procedure or CrPC (1973), the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita is designed to revamp and strengthen laws related to citizen safety and security. This proposed legislation takes into account the evolving nature of threats faced by individuals in the digital age, such as cybercrimes, identity theft, and online harassment. Although it retains many parts of the CrPC in essence, a few notable inclusions are changes related to the rules regarding Detention of Undertrials, Forensic investigations for crimes, Holding trials in electronic mode, Allowing the District Magistrate to prohibit the carrying of arms, and the general timelines for legal procedures.


By introducing comprehensive provisions to address these issues, the Government aims to ensure that citizens are better protected not only in the physical world but also from cybercrimes online.


Additionally, the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita is expected to redefine the relationship between law enforcement agencies and citizens. It may introduce mechanisms for greater accountability of law enforcement personnel, while also safeguarding their authority to maintain public order.


What is the Bharatiya Sakshya Bill?

The Indian Evidence Act governs the admissibility and evaluation of evidence in legal proceedings. The Bharatiya Sakshya Bill proposes a comprehensive reimagining of how evidence is collected, presented, and evaluated. This includes provisions to accommodate modern forms of evidence, such as electronic records, digital communication, and data trails. This could enhance the accuracy and reliability of evidence, making the legal process more robust and efficient.


The Bharatiya Sakshya Bill may also introduce provisions to protect the rights of witnesses and victims, ensuring that their testimony is obtained without undue coercion or intimidation. This would contribute to a fairer and more just legal system.


What is the Need for Amendment?

The Government’s reason for this change is multifaceted.

  • First, the IPC was enacted in 1860, during the British colonial era, and has undergone very few amendments since then. With the emergence of new crimes and technological advancements, there's a need to address legal loopholes and incorporate provisions that align with contemporary challenges.

  • Second, the CrPC governs the procedures followed by criminal courts, including arrest, investigation, trial, and sentencing. The proposed Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita seeks to enhance efficiency, transparency, and fairness in the criminal justice process. This could lead to expedited trials, reduced case backlog, and improved access to justice for all citizens.

  • Third, many representatives of the Indian law commission have also expressed an interest in “indianising” the existing law structure to do away with ancient western concepts of the British Raj - as mentioned by Minister of Law and Justice Arjun Ram Meghwal.


Public Resistance Against Replacing IPC According to recent news reports, the President of the Madras Bar Association suggests that an extraordinary general body meeting unanimously passed a resolution that expressed strong disagreement and distress regarding the Hindi names given to the Bills. They have also decided to provide other suggestions to the Union Law Ministry with a plea to revert the original names of the three laws.


Similarly, another group of lawyers, including those associated with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, organised a protest outside the Madras High Court premises recently to criticize the Central Government’s move by arguing that the Hindi renaming of the laws goes against the constitution.


Conclusion

The proposed replacement of the IPC, CrPC, and Indian Evidence Act with the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita, and Bharatiya Sakshya Bill signifies a significant step towards reforming India’s legal framework and coming to terms with contemporary challenges and advancements.


These changes hold the potential to enhance the efficiency, transparency, and fairness of the legal system while providing citizens with greater protection and rights. However, the successful implementation of these reforms will depend on careful drafting, comprehensive stakeholder consultations, and a commitment to upholding the principles of justice and the rule of law. With a lot left to see and the proposed changes still under the scrutiny of the public eye, we are yet to see the future of such changes. What we can surely say is that as India progresses, the transformation of its legal landscape could be a crucial factor in shaping a more just and inclusive society.

 

The Author : Dr. Sunil Khattri

sunilkhattri@gmail.com

+91 9811618704



Dr. Sunil Khattri MBBS, MS(General Surgery), LLB, is a Medical doctor and is a practicing Advocate in the Supreme Court of India and National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, New Delhi.

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