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Focus on civil rights, justice in landmark reforms in Indian criminal laws

NewsFocus on civil rights, justice in landmark reforms in Indian criminal laws


The government on Friday presented three bills in the Lok Sabha aimed at reforming the Indian Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure, and the Indian Evidence Act. These laws, which have been in place since the British era, are now being scrutinized for revision. The government’s primary focus, as stated by Union Home Minister Amit Shah, is to ensure justice rather than mere punishment, marking a departure from the original intent of these laws which were designed to protect and strengthen British administration, with a focus on punishment rather than justice.

Amit Shah emphasized that the proposed changes will protect Indian civil rights and enable the government to take action against fugitives like Dawood Ibrahim, Nirav Modi, and Vijay Mallya. Under the new laws, individuals declared as fugitives by the sessions court will be tried in absentia following prescribed procedures, even if they are hiding anywhere in the world. This provision will compel fugitives to abide by Indian laws if they wish to appeal against their sentence.

Amit Shah linked the introduction of these bills to Prime Minister Modi’s commitment to eradicate all remnants of slavery, echoing the promise made on 15 August. The bills aim to bring about significant changes, including the removal of the term “sedition,” amendments to section 150, and modifications in punishment for treason. Additionally, the government’s overhaul of the criminal justice system includes provisions for forensic teams to collect evidence in cases with sentences exceeding 7 years.

The proposed bills have been sent to the Standing Committee of Parliament for comprehensive discussions and further deliberation. As the process unfolds, questions have arisen regarding potential provisions for the death penalty in cases of mob lynching and the rape of minors, adding to the ongoing dialogue surrounding these significant legislative reforms.

Digitization, Swift Justice, and Stricter Punishments
By 2027, all courts in the country will undergo digitization. In the event of someone’s arrest, their family will be promptly notified, and a designated police officer will be appointed for this purpose. Summary trials for offenses with a maximum penalty of 3 years will be introduced. This will accelerate the legal proceedings and verdict delivery in such cases. Within 30 days of filing charges, the judge is obligated to issue a decision. For cases involving government employees, both sides must complete the trial within 120 days.

Stricter punishment provisions have been established for organized crime. The death penalty can be commuted to life imprisonment, but exoneration won’t be straightforward. The concept of sedition is being entirely abolished. The order to seize property of the guilty party will now come from the court, not a police officer. The goal is to ensure justice for everyone within 3 years.

The proposed new sections in the Indian Penal Code (IPC) include:
Section 145: Attempting or inciting war against the Government of India, akin to the current section 121.
Section 146: Conspiring to wage war, similar to the current section 121A.
Section 147: Gathering arms or other items with the intent of waging war against the Government of India, analogous to the current section 122.

The sedition law will be replaced. Instead, under section 150, charges will be framed. Section 150 addresses acts endangering the sovereignty, unity, and integrity of India.
Section 150: Anyone who intentionally creates or attempts to create hatred, disturbance, incites violence, disturbs public tranquility, or commits acts prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of India or encourages terrorism shall be punished with imprisonment for life or rigorous imprisonment, not less than seven years, and may extend to life imprisonment, along with a fine.

Key changes under Section 150:
Inclusion of electronic communication and financial resources. Modification of the phrase “incite or attempt to incite hatred” against the government. Specification of provisions regarding incitement, conspiracy, promoting separatist activities, endangering sovereignty, or unity.

Modified punishment: The minimum sentence for sedition will be 7 years of rigorous imprisonment, which can be extended to life imprisonment.

Regarding sentencing for rape victims’ identification:

Under the new law, sharing private videos/photos of a woman will be punishable. For the first offense, the punishment can extend up to three years, and a fine may also be imposed. For subsequent offenses, the punishment can extend up to seven years, and a fine may also be imposed. From FIR (First Information Report) to judgment, all processes will be conducted online:

By 2027, all courts will be digitized, allowing FIR registration from anywhere. Upon someone’s arrest, their family will be immediately informed. Investigations must be completed within 180 days and sent for trial. A false identification leading to sexual relations has been categorized as a crime.

The IPC will have 533 remaining sections, with 133 new sections added, 9 sections modified, and 9 sections removed. 475 remnants of slavery have been abolished. Various forms of evidence, such as electronic communication, digital, SMS, location evidence, and email, will have legal validity.

The judicial process will be integrated with technology, enabling trials through video conferencing and involving national forensic technology experts. Videography will be mandatory in search and seizure operations. Every year, 33,000 forensic experts will be produced. A forensic report is required for cases with a sentence of more than 7 years.

All lower, district, and state-level courts will be computerized before 2027, and in Delhi, a team from FSL (Forensic Science Laboratory) is now mandatory for cases with a sentence of more than 7 years. Victim statements in sexual assault cases are mandatory, and a case cannot be withdrawn without hearing the victim.

Summary trials for cases with a maximum punishment of 3 years have been introduced to expedite case resolution. A decision must be delivered within 30 days of filing charges, and the verdict must be made available online within 7 days. The government must make a decision within 120 days. New provisions include forfeiture of assets for proclaimed offenders and harsher punishment for organized crime, as well as categorizing incorrect identification leading to sexual relations as a crime.

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