The new codes, written in simple language, envision stricter punishment for crimes against women and children, seek to de-congest jails by releasing convicts who have served half their sentences, define terrorism and mob lynching as new offences and fix accountability of cops for arrests. Time-bound trials, introduction of summary trials for petty crimes as well as community service, provision for recording the statement of a victim of sexual violence at her house by a woman magistrate are among highlights of the bills.
Introducing the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita, and Bharatiya Sakshya Bill, 2023 that will replace the Indian Penal Code, the Criminal Procedure Code and the Indian Evidence Act respectively, home minister Amit Shah said the move marks a paradigm shift to ensure speedy justice, integrity of evidence for higher conviction and lower pendency.
Proposed laws set timelines for chargesheets & verdicts; limit adjournments & set terms for them
Introducing the three new bills aimed at a complete overhaul of India’s criminal justice system, Amit Shah said in the Lok Sabha on Friday, “The bills are aimed at simplifying complex procedures of IPC, CrPC and Indian Evidence Act, which led to a large number of pending cases in courts, low conviction rate, deprivation of poor and socio-economically backward communities in getting justice and overcrowding in jails due to large number of undertrial prisoners.”
The home minister said, “The colonial-era laws were meant to protect the state and punish its subjects, while the proposed changes are meant for deterrence and ensuring justice to a victim. Justice delivery will be central to the new legal architecture,” he added, detailing the wide-ranging consultations held with SC and HC judges, serving and former police chiefs, state governments and UTs. We consulted judicial academies, 22 law universities, 42 MPs cutting across party lines and looked at the reports of different Law Commissions.”
Under the proposed laws, chargesheets will have to be filed within 90 days, any extension beyond this, subject to a maximum of another 90 days, can be granted only by the court. After the conclusion of arguments, the judge will have 30 days to give his verdict. The timeline can be extended for another 30 days for specific reasons which will have to be recorded.
A maximum of two adjournments can be given and that too not without hearing the other side and recording the specific reasons.
First-time offenders, except those sentenced to death or serving life imprisonment, who have served one-third of their imprisonment, will be entitled to seek bail. A 120-day deadline has been provided for seeking sanction of prosecution of civil servant and non-adherence by the “competent authority” will be presumed to be consent.
Proclaimed offenders can be tried in absentia, and provision has been made for the confiscation and disposal of their properties with the approval of the court.
Sexual exploitation of women on the pretext of marriage, job, promotions or by hiding identity will be considered a crime. For gang rape, there is provision for punishment of 20 years imprisonment or life, while gang rape of a minor will attract death sentence. Acts of secession, armed rebellion, subversive activities, separatist activities or endangering the sovereignty or unity and integrity of India will invite up to life imprisonment.
While providing a legal foundation for mandatory filing of zero FIRs, the law fixes a timeframe of 15 days for its transfer to the police station under whose jurisdiction the crime is committed. All search and seizure operations would need to be videographed, and forensic team would be mandatory involved in the investigation of offences punishable with 7 years or more.
Witness protection has to be strengthened by empowering officers of the rank of SP to take adequate measures instead of leaving the important responsibility, as is currently the case, to the DGP.
Faster investigation and prosecution comes across as one of the main objectives, with the BNSS bill allowing incumbent officers to depose as witnesses. The current regime requires only officers under whose charge the crime was committed to be witnesses during the trial. Statements, once recorded, can be carried through during the investigation and trial, says the provision.
Shah said the changes have been designed by keeping citizens’ welfare at the centre, pointing out that “offences against women and children, murder and offences against the state have been given precedence”. Various offences have been made gender-neutral.
“The experience of seven decades of Indian democracy calls for comprehensive review of our criminal laws, including the Code of Criminal Procedure and adopting them in accordance with the contemporary needs and aspirations of the people,” the statement of objects for the BNSS bill said.
It said the government’s mantra was “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas and Sabka Prayas” and it was committed to ensuring speedy justice to all citizens in conformity with these constitutional aspirations.
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