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Committee on Criminal Law Reform

  • 01 Jul 2020
  • 6 min read

Why in News

Recently, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has constituted a national level committee for reform in criminal law.

Key Points

  • Committee For Reform In Criminal Law:
    • The committee has been constituted under Ranbir Singh and several other members.
    • The committee would be gathering opinions online by consulting with experts and collating material for their report to the government.
    • The consultation exercise would start on 4th July 2020 and go on for the next three months.
  • Background of Criminal Justice System:
    • The codification of criminal laws in India was done during the British rule, which more or less remains the same even in the 21st century.
    • Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay is said to be the chief architect of codifications of criminal laws in India.
    • Criminal law in India is governed by Indian Penal Code, 1860, Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, and Indian Evidence Act, 1872, etc.
  • Need for Reforms:
    • Colonial Era Laws: The criminal justice system is a replica of the British colonial jurisprudence, which was designed with the purpose of ruling the nation and not serving the citizens.
    • Ineffectiveness: The purpose of the criminal justice system was to protect the rights of the innocents and punish the guilty, but nowadays the system has become a tool of harassment of common people.
    • Pendency of Cases: According to Economic Survey 2018-19, there are about 3.5 crore cases pending in the judicial system, especially in district and subordinate courts, which leads to actualisation of the maxim “Justice delayed is justice denied.”
    • Huge Undertrials: India has one of the world’s largest number of undertrial prisoners.
      • According to NCRB -Prison Statistics India (2015), 67.2% of our total prison population comprises undertrial prisoners.
    • Investigation: Corruption, huge workload and accountability of police is a major hurdle in speedy and transparent delivery of justice.
    • Madhav Menon Committee: It submitted its report in 2007, suggesting various recommendations on reforms in the CJSI.
    • Malimath Committee Report: It submitted its report in 2003 on the Criminal Justice System of India (CJSI).
      • The Committee had opined that the existing system “weighed in favour of the accused and did not adequately focus on justice to the victims of crime.”
      • It has provided various recommendations to be made in the CJSI, which were not implemented.

Suggestions for Reforms

  • Criminal law is considered to be the most apparent expression of the relationship between a state and its citizens. Therefore, any revision to the CJSI needs to be done while keeping several principles in mind, which are:
    • The reason for victimization ought to be given a major thrust in reforming laws to identify the rights of crime victims.
      • For Example: Launch of victim and witness protection schemes, use of victim impact statements, increased victim participation in criminal trials, enhanced access of victims to compensation and restitution.
    • The construction of new offences and reworking of the existing classification of offences must be guided by the principles of criminal jurisprudence which have substantially altered in the past four decades.
      • For Example: Criminal liability could be graded better to assign the degree of punishments. New types of punishments like community service orders, restitution orders, and other aspects of restorative and reformative justice could also be brought in its fold.
    • The classification of offences must be done in a manner conducive to management of crimes in the future.
      • Many chapters of the IPC are overloaded at several places. The chapters on offences against public servants, contempt of authority, public tranquility, and trespass can be redefined and narrowed.
    • Guiding principles need to be developed after sufficient debate before criminalising an act as a crime.
      • Unprincipled criminalisation not only leads to the creation of new offences on unscientific grounds, but also arbitrariness in the criminal justice system.
    • The discretion of judges in deciding the quantum and nature of sentence differently for crimes of the same nature should be based on principles of judicial precedent.

Way Forward

  • India needs to draft a clear policy that should inform the changes to be envisaged in the existing criminal laws.
  • It also needs to make simultaneous improvements in the police, prosecution, judiciary and in prisons.
  • The focus of reform should be on reformative justice in order to bring all around peace in the society.

Source: TH

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