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Reforming Criminal Justice System

Reforming Criminal Justice

The Criminal Justice System is like a team of organizations working together to deal with crimes. This team consists of the police, the judiciary, and the prison system, all collaborating to ensure that justice is served properly. Throughout India’s history as an independent nation, there have been numerous recommendations and reports aimed at improving our justice system. The Law Commission of India and various dedicated committees have put forward their suggestions to make our aging and inefficient criminal justice system better. In this article, we’ll walk you through the findings and recommendations of two important committees: the Justice V.S. Malimath Committee and the Madhav Menon Committee.

What is the Criminal Justice System?

The criminal justice system is a comprehensive framework that focuses on preventing, uncovering, prosecuting, and penalizing crimes while safeguarding the rights and well-being of everyone involved. It encompasses entities such as the police, courts, lawmakers, and additional groups like forensic and investigative teams that work together to maintain law and order.

What are the Proposed Changes in India’s Criminal Justice System?

Proposed Changes in the Bharatiya Nyay Sanhita Bill, 2023

  • The new law clarifies what constitutes terrorism and related offenses like separatism, armed rebellion, and challenges to the country’s sovereignty, which were previously scattered across different laws.
  • It eliminates the outdated sedition charge, which many criticized for stifling free speech and dissent.
  • The law establishes the most severe penalty, capital punishment, for mob lynching, a growing concern in recent times.
  • For cases involving deceptive promises of marriage leading to sexual intercourse, the law suggests a 10-year prison term, addressing a common form of deceit and exploitation.
  • Community service is introduced as a form of punishment for specific crimes, aiming to reform offenders and reduce prison overcrowding.
  • The law sets a maximum time limit of 180 days for filing a charge sheet, expediting trials and preventing lengthy delays.

Proposed Changes in the Bhartiya Nagrik Suraksha Sanhita Bill, 2023

  • Embracing Technology: The proposed changes encourage the use of technology in legal proceedings, like using video calls for trials, appeals, and recording statements.
  • Protecting Survivors: The bill makes it mandatory to record statements of survivors of sexual violence on video, ensuring that evidence is preserved and reducing the risk of coercion or manipulation.
  • Accountability and Transparency: Police are required to provide information about the status of a complaint within 90 days, which improves accountability and transparency in the justice system.
  • Safeguarding Arrests: The bill adds a safeguard by renumbering Section 41A of the CrPC as Section 35, ensuring that no arrest can happen without approval from a Deputy Superintendent of Police, especially for less severe offenses or individuals above 60 years.
  • Victim Consultation: Police must consult the victim before withdrawing a case with a punishment of seven years or more, ensuring that justice isn’t compromised.
  • In-Absentia Trials: Absconding criminals can be tried and sentenced in absentia, discouraging them from avoiding the legal consequences of their actions.
  • Electronic Evidence: Magistrates can now consider electronic records like emails, SMSs, and WhatsApp messages as evidence, simplifying evidence collection and verification.
  • Timely Mercy Petitions: Mercy petitions in death sentence cases must be filed within 30 days to the Governor and within 60 days to the President.
  • Final Presidential Decisions: No further appeals can be made against the President’s decision in any court, ensuring a final resolution in death penalty cases.

Proposed Changes in Bharatiya Sakshya Bill, 2023

  • The bill explains that electronic evidence includes any information produced or sent by devices that can be stored and retrieved in various ways.
  • It sets out clear rules for accepting electronic evidence, ensuring it’s trustworthy, unaltered, and reliable to prevent digital data manipulation.
  • The bill includes special regulations for using DNA evidence, requiring consent and maintaining a secure chain of custody, which improves the accuracy and trustworthiness of biological evidence.
  • It acknowledges that expert opinions, like medical assessments and handwriting analysis, can be considered as evidence to help establish important facts in a case.
  • The bill also upholds the principle of the presumption of innocence, which means that anyone accused of a crime is considered innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Need for Reforms

The Indian government acknowledges the need for significant changes in the current criminal justice system, and here are the main reasons for this call for reform:

  • Complicated Process: The legal process can be quite complex, making it hard for regular folks to grasp. This lack of understanding can be exploited by legal professionals and the police, leading to potential misuse of people’s innocence due to the system’s complexity.
  • Historical Roots: The laws in India haven’t seen significant updates since the country gained independence.
  • Slow Justice System: The Indian judiciary is overwhelmed with a backlog of pending cases, causing delays in delivering justice.
  • Undertrial Overload: Shockingly, more than 63% of those in Indian prisons are still awaiting trial.
  • Corruption Concerns: Lack of transparency, especially at lower levels, can undermine the justice system’s integrity.
  • Lack of Accountability: In high-profile cases, police officials often lack the freedom to act independently, being influenced by political interests.

What are the Issues in the Current Criminal Justice System of India?

  • Backlog of Cases: As per the National Judicial Data Grid, there are more than 47 million pending cases in Indian courts at various levels. This results in long delays in getting justice, goes against the right to a speedy trial, and shakes public trust in the legal system.
  • Resource Shortage and Infrastructure Problems: Our criminal justice system grapples with insufficient funding, manpower, and facilities. There’s a shortage of judges, prosecutors, police officers, forensic experts, and legal aid lawyers. To put it in perspective, for every one million people in our country, there are only 21 judges as of February 2023. The high courts have nearly 400 vacant positions, and the lower judiciary has around 35% of its posts unfilled.
  • Inadequate Investigation and Prosecution Quality: Often, the agencies responsible for investigations and prosecutions fall short in conducting thorough, impartial, and professional inquiries. They face interference from political influences, corruption, and lack accountability.
  • Human Rights Concerns: The criminal justice system faces accusations of violating the human rights of not just the accused but also victims, witnesses, and other stakeholders. Cases of custodial torture, extrajudicial killings, false arrests, unlawful detentions, coerced confessions, unfair trials, and harsh penalties raise concerns.
  • Outdated Laws and Procedures: Our legal system still relies on laws and procedures introduced by the British in 1860, which are outdated and do not address modern crimes like cybercrime, terrorism, organized crime, mob violence, and more.
  • Public Perception: The Second Administrative Reforms Commission has pointed out that the relationship between the police and the public in India is often unsatisfactory. People perceive the police as corrupt, inefficient, and unresponsive, leading to hesitance in seeking their assistance.

Read Also: POCSO Act: India’s Special Law to Protect Children

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