India’s criminal justice system is undergoing a paradigm reform under the leadership of the honourable Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi and Home Minister, Shri Amit Shah after 150 years of a colonial penal state. The new criminal laws- Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS), Bharatiya Sakshya (BS), and Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita (BNSS) to replace the Indian Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure and the Indian Evidence Act of 1872 underpin a citizen-centric legal system rooted in the development, social empowerment, and community participation of Indians. The new Indian criminal justice system with a victim-centric approach is a system of justice rather than punishment.
Modi Government’s breakthrough effort to revolutionize India’s British-era criminal jurisprudence ties the idea of fairness and justice to the vision of Amrit Kaal- a long march to India’s 100 years of independence, a protected society, and empowered citizens. The philosophical foundations of the criminal justice reform by the Government accentuate the ancient Vedic approach to law and society. Societal obligations, commiseration towards vulnerable sections and incapacitated form the bedrock of the new criminal laws designed to protect the rights of Indians.
Indians’ mass social and political confidence in PM Narendra Modi and HM Amit Shah’s leadership is likely to enhance the fairness and effectiveness of criminal jurisprudence in the country. The idea of justice effectively interacts with ancient Indian traditions- the revivification of Vedic society to serve the cause of justice in the modern world. The new Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS) proposes community service as a method of punishment for minor offences. Community service is a popular method of punishment in advanced democracies and mirrors ‘Seva Bhav,’ an integral tradition in ancient India aimed at the betterment of society.
In increasingly challenging times, when the crimes have increased, the new criminal laws give precedence to offences against women and children. Additionally, some offences have been made gender neutral reflecting a sincere effort by the Government towards an aspirational ‘gender just’ Indian society. The archaic colonial criminal laws put treason and treasury above grave crimes against society like murder and rape. The new laws make an effort to deter crimes against women and children. Additionally, murder and crimes against the nation have been addressed firmly. The promising indicators of a criminal justice system rest on its ability to protect individuals from vulnerable age, gender, ethnicity, and income groups. The criminal justice reform has been a matter not only of corrective exercise but of deep significance to empower all sections of society in India.
The new criminal laws have put crimes against the nation at the heart of justice. The Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS) defines terrorism in conjunction with adding new offences pertaining to terrorist activities and organized crimes with deterrent punishment. Additionally, acts of armed rebellion, subversive activities, separatist activities or endangering the sovereignty or unity and integrity of India have been suitably added. The promotion and protection of human rights in India through criminal justice reforms requires identifying terrorism and organised crime as a grave threat to human security. The new criminal laws recognize that counter-terrorism provisions and the promotion of human rights are not conflicting goals but complementary and mutually reinforceable.
The new criminal laws empower citizens’ right to a speedy trial. The timeline for criminal proceedings, arrest, investigation, charge sheet, proceedings before a magistrate, cognizance, charges, plea bargaining, the appointment of Assistant public prosecutor, trial, bail, judgement, and punishment has been altered to facilitate speedy delivery of justice. These changes have been made keeping in mind the negative impact of delayed justice on the mental, physical, and financial well-being of the victims and the accused.
The new criminal laws identify and address the emerging social and technological developments of the future. Additionally, the legal, policing, and investigative systems will now adapt to the technology and forensic science of the modern era. The Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita (BNSS) has engaged technology at all stages of crime investigation with suitable assessment of threats and opportunities that could enhance the criminal justice system. Effective utilization of technology is likely to bring speedy trial and transparency in the investigation. Until now, the risks emanating from technological advancement significantly reduced access to justice and weakened the rule of law. Harnessing the power of scientific technologies in the new criminal laws will mark a bodily shift in people’s trust in the criminal justice system through improved court services and accountability of investigation agencies. These changes will digitally empower the rights of both victims and the accused.
Overall, the new criminal laws reflect the aspirations of a healthy society and rest on the constitutional and civilizational values of India. The legal system broadly and the criminal justice system in particular form the cornerstone of a strong national consciousness and ideals of unity in diversity. As one of the important pillars of a country, the justice delivery system should not only serve the citizens of India but also reform as per the needs of the society. The new criminal laws under the Prime ministership of Shri Narendra Modi are hope for common people and the democratization of the rule of law itself restricted to only a few in the past.
*Author is a Law intern at the Supreme Court of India and a member of the Civil 20 Working Group on Human Rights.
Originally published: News18, January 19, 2024
Posted on academics4namo with the authorization of the author.