Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Criminal laws decolonised


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On June 27, the Press Information Bureau (PIB) and the Meghalaya Police organised a discussion on the three new criminal laws, namely the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS), the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita, and the Bharatiya Sakshya Sanhita that are set to replace the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) and the Indian Evidence Act, respectively, with effect from July 1, 2024. The discussion was to throw light on the vital aspects of the three reformed criminal laws. The audience comprised media persons, law students and lawyers. In essence, the new or reformed laws would replace the colonial laws and with them the western ethical mores upon which the laws were drafted. Police officials lauded the new laws stating they were citizen-friendly and justice-centric since FIRs could now be filed via the online mode and from anywhere in the country (zero FIR). The laws will rely heavily on technology. Citizens filing FIRs now can follow online their case statuses and ask the police for the progress of investigation of those cases. Cases would now also be resolved in a time bound manner thereby doing away with the infamous “tareekh pe tareekh,” saga that has long ailed the judiciary in India.
However, even before the D-date has arrived some lawyers have approached the Supreme Court praying for specific directions to immediately constitute an expert committee for assessing and identifying the viability of the three new criminal laws. An additional petition has also been filed asking for a stay on the operation and implementation of three new criminal laws. The petitioners contend that the titles of the current laws are not accurate. They stated that as per the interpretation of statutes, the titles of these proposed bills do not clearly reflect the statutes and their motive. Instead, the current names of the Acts are ambiguous. Apart from this, the petitioners contend that there were discrepancies in the Acts. Regarding BNS, they said, it retains most offences from the IPC. Further, BNS defines petty organised crime as an offence. This includes vehicle theft, pickpocketing, selling public examination question papers, and other forms of organized crimes committed by gangs. To be considered as such, these crimes must (i) cause a general feeling of insecurity among citizens and (ii) be committed by organized criminal groups or gangs, including mobile organised crime groups. The petitioners stated that the Bills were passed without any proper parliamentary debate as 141 MPs from the Opposition were under suspension. This has led to arbitrary passage of the Bills with no challenges.
The petitioners pointed to former Chief Justice NV Ramana’s concerns in 2021 regarding enactment of laws without proper debate. The former Chief Justice had said, “Parliamentary debate is a fundamental part of democratic lawmaking. In parliament, members’ debate bills before they vote on them. Because debates are public, they provide Members of Parliament (MPs) an opportunity to represent the views of constituents on the floor and give voice to voters’ concerns.” Amongst other issues the petitioners expressed concern at the admissibility of electronic records since the process lacks safeguards to prevent tampering and contamination of these records during the investigation process.


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