23rd October – A roadmap for criminal justice reforms

Home Minister Amit Shah recently said that the Bureau of Police Research and Development should work on a proposal to amend various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC). The reason for this decision, the direction the exercise should take, and the changes envisaged in the laws are not clear. Therefore, before introducing changes, the Home Ministry must first identify the provisions to be revised and provide a justification for doing so.

Keeping principles in mind

  • The authors of Codification, Macaulay and the Indian Penal Code suggest first looking into the general principles of criminal law, the language of the IPC, and the rules which should govern its interpretation. Well-conceived reforms in these laws would automatically translate into massive reforms in criminal justice.
  • First, victimological underpinnings ought to be given a major thrust in reforming laws to identify the rights of crime victims. The launch of victim and witness protection schemes, use of victim impact statements, advent of victim advocacy, increased victim participation in criminal trials, enhanced access of victims to compensation and restitution all point towards the increased role of victims in the criminal justice system.
  • Second, construction of new offences and reworking of the existing classification of offences must be informed by the principles of criminal jurisprudence which have substantially altered in the past four decades. New types of punishments like community service orders, restitution orders, and other aspects of restorative and reformative justice could also be brought in this fold.
  • Third, the scheme of chapters and classification of offences can be drastically reworked. Offences like criminal conspiracy, sedition, offences against coin and stamps etc. must be abolished or replaced. Chapters of the IPC are overloaded at several places. It is unnecessary to have hundreds of sections in the category of property offences. Even the chapters on offences against public servants, contempt of authority, public tranquility, and trespass can be redefined and narrowed. New offences under a fresh classification scheme, like those suggested by the Malimath Committee on criminal justice reforms, can be introduced. Classification of offences must be done in a manner conducive to management of crimes in the future.
  • Unprincipled criminalisation must be avoided to save the state from dealing with too many entrants into the criminal justice system. Guiding principles need to be developed after sufficient debate before criminalising an act as a crime.
  • On the procedural side, sentencing reforms are highly imperative. Principled sentencing is needed as judges at present have the discretion to decide the quantum and nature of sentence to be imposed and often sentence convicts differently for crimes of the same nature and/or gravity.

Way forward –

Criminal justice is directionless and in a state of policy ambiguity. India needs to draft a clear policy that should inform the changes to be envisaged in the IPC or CrPC. Finally, these reforms will be of no consequence unless simultaneous improvements are made in the police, prosecution, judiciary and in prisons.

Conclusion –

A Criminal Justice Reform Committee with a mandate to evolve criminal justice policy should be formed for this exercise. It should be in furtherance to the work done by the Menon Committee on Criminal Justice System, the Malimath Committee, and the Law Commission in India in this regard.

SourceThe Hindu

QUESTIONThe criminal justice system is crying for reforms since independence. Suggest the areas which can be altered to create a law-abiding society in India. Discuss.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *