Legal Reform in Criminal Justice System of India – a Much Awaited Overhaul for Time Bound Justice
Dr Ramanand Garge

January 26, the largest democracy of the world celebrates its 75th Republic Day. As in 2022, India celebrated its 75th year of Independence where it carved out a rightful place for itself in 1947 and since then India has emerged as a prominent entity at regional as well as global levels. Current rise of India is characterised by rapid and consistent economic growth and political stability ably complimented by the timely development of its enhanced capabilities. These elements enabled India to play a decisive role at the global level by defining prominent initiatives like Solar Alliance, the Counter-terror convention, hosting Interpol General Assembly, No Money for Terror (NMFT) conference, permanent secretariat No Money for Terror, maritime order at the newly evolved strategic geography of Indo-Pacific reflects its grown capabilities. While developing its capabilities, India have embraced the growth and all-inclusive development characterised by strong focus on self-reliance. While doing so, India has always maintained and ensured its strategic autonomy that defines its overall domestic, regional, and global outreach of India (Scott, 2012). For facilitating such rapid development and reviving India into a developed economy of the world needed a transformative systemic reform. As prominent democracy of the world various systematic reforms was introduced by the government which are citizen centric and facilitating comprehensive growth in all sectors.

One of the crucial elements which was in great need of strong overhaul was the criminal justice system of India which was characterised by vintage laws emanating from colonial era and were in function since more than 150 years. Majority of these laws were imposed by the British rule seeking loyalty to the crown and has retributive orientation towards overall concept of justice. Thus, to compliment the comprehensive growth the new laws which are reformative in nature signifies the justice-oriented legacy of India evolved over of thousands of years;

  1. Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita 2023 – replaced the vintage 163-year-old Indian Penal Code of 1860
  2. Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita 2023- replaced the archaic Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) of 1898
  3. Bharatiya Sakshya Bill 2023 – replaced out of time the Indian Evidence Act of 1872 (Government of India M. , 2023)

These landmark laws in the form of bills were first introduced in the Parliament of India on August 11, 2023 and later was recommended to the Department related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home affairs, which has submitted its detailed recommendations about all the three laws in its Reports no 246(Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita 2023), 247 Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita, 248 Bharatiya Sakshya Bill 2023 on November 10, 2023 to the Parliament (Rajya Sabha D. , 2023) (Rajya Sabha D. , 2023) (Rajya Sabha D. , 2023). Simultaneously, the Ministry of home affairs actively engaged with all stake holders of Indian justice systems such as Judiciary at all levels, Judicial Academies, IPS officers, Law Universities, Indian Law Commission, Advocates, eminent jurists and civil society etc. These laws are introduced after extensive engagements of 158 meetings and have reviewed thousands of suggestions made (Government of India P. M., 2023). Thus, after such thorough review the completely redrafted laws were re-introduced by the Hon’ble Union Home Minister Amit Shah on December 12, 2023 and were passed by the both the houses of the Parliament. It further received the Presidential Ascent on December 25, 2023 (Government of India D. , 2023).

Significance of the Newly Commissioned Laws and Internal Security

Post-World War II period, after achieving Independence internal security challenges have been the primary source of friction that was exploited by the external elements i.e., internal fault lines became the munitions for external factors to exploit and often catalysed by these elements to destabilise India. For this India had paid a very heavy price in the form of loss of lives which has projected India as a “Soft State” globally (Government of India G. , 2000). Thus, while proactively safeguarding its interests and achieving its security goal, a diverse country like India must continue upholding the rule of law by administering changes through dynamic legislations and ensuring its legitimacy of power, which is one of the crucial elements of the governance (Doval, KC, 2010). Similar observation reiterated by the Kargil Review Committee (KRC) that external elements have strongly influenced internal security threat profile of India (Government of India G. , 2000).

Does this mean the security set up of India remains the same as of 1947? No, as India evolves the conventional concept of national security, where prominent emphasis was only on military might. Over the period it has changed and witnessed a rapid transformation strengthening all elements of national power such as political, military, environmental, economic, internal cohesion, and technical competence. The essential abilities listed are the defining features of the country’s overall security. In this regard, the Kargil Review Committee established aftermath of the Kargil conflict was the comprehensive security review conducted by the Government of India in all elements of national power. It is a prominent milestone in the security governance of India and have facilitated a comprehensive reform with enabling capacity build up for India. These prominent areas of security governance include proactive integrated real time intelligence, internal security and law and order, border and defence management, and police modernisation. These reforms were introduced with a core objective of developing efficient and cost-effective national security mechanism capable of addressing India’s security threat profile of 21st century proactively.

One of the crucial elements identified in the governance was law and justice, where along with the routine conventional civil and criminal matters, certain cases of critical importance related to terrorism were severely affected. In this regard a crucial need for transforming reforms in criminal justice system and strengthening state capabilities through Police Modernisation in all aspects was strongly recommended by the Justice V. S. Malimath Committee. For strengthening capabilities of states the committee strongly emphasised on developing and investing important aspects of security governance like policing, investigations, Justice to Victim of crime, etc. It also made doable recommendations to the judiciary like Director of Prosecution, Inadequacy of judges in the courts, trial procedures, witness and perjury, Vacation of Courts, and most critical aspect i.e. offences, sentences, sentencing and compounding etc. In view of the contemporary and future challenges of technology-based crimes it also recommended re-classification of offences and recommended to prioritised crime against women, children, federal crimes and terrorism. While reforming these crucial areas of justice system the Justice Malimath committee strongly advised the government and the Judiciary to strongly invest in training for reaping the benefits of criminal justice reforms in reasonable time (Malimath, 2003).

For instance, 1993 blast case verdict was delivered in span of 14 years in 2013, the Mumbai siege verdict was delivered by the Supreme Court in span of 5 years (Supreme Court of India, 2012), the Malegaon blast case is still to be reached to its logical conclusion. The Rajiv Gandhi murder case in which the prime accused Nalini was convicted for conventional charges of murder (Sec. 302 of IPC) despite the presence of TADA as an anti-terror law. She was awarded with death sentence which was later converted life imprisonment and she was released from the Vellore Jail along with 4 other convicts from the same case (Nath, 2022) (Express Web Desk, 2022).

Prominent Features of the Newly Introduced Laws

The core objective to introduce or reform the new systems in terms of 3 prominent laws are

  1. To strengthen the law-and-order mechanism and for doing so a thorough review of present criminal justice system was essential. This is the first time in the history of India such comprehensive review was conducted in last 160 years of its justice system. After thorough review, a need was felt to streamline certain legal processes and procedures.
  2. It was felt that the present criminal justice system is not able to cope up with the swift pace and range of evolving crimes. Thus, in view of the prompt need of the present era to provide justice in time bound manner a comprehensive justice system is developed by the government which will address the issues and reflect the aspirations of the citizens.
  3. Provisions pertaining to crimes and related punishments are streamlined by withdrawing the present 160-year-old Criminal laws reforming criminal justice system.

Some of the highlights of the newly introduced criminal laws are;

  1. First time the provision of community service is introduced for the petty crimes or non-cognizable crimes.
  2. Crime against women, children, state and certain crimes like murder are prioritised and made gender neutral to secure the fundamental rights of the gender-oriented minorities like transgenders etc.
  3. For effective enforcement of law against the menace of terrorism and organised crimes new definitions and acts of terror and organised crimes are introduced and are provided with deterrent punishments as well.
  4. After repeal of TADA in 1995 first time the concept of “Terrorism” is defined in the new criminal laws nearly after 3 decades. This is true reflection of Government’s zero tolerance policy towards terrorism. By providing the definition and defining the acts those invites charges of various crime against state a great mechanism has been established. It will truly facilitate and expedite terrorism related cases. Imagine if the crime is not defined, how challenging it must have been to develop a case against prime suspect of terrorism and organised crime. Related penal action is also duly defined in new laws which will facilitate apt interpretation in the court of law and help judiciary to process the terrorism or heinous crimes in timebound manner and reach out to a precise logical conclusion of the case.
  5. This truly brings clarity about concept of terrorism and insurgency. These transformative features of the new laws are assuring towards eradicating the menace of insurgency and bringing stability within the sovereign country of Bharat. It will strongly provide legal support to the police to proactively remained operational in counter insurgency operations and establishing stability in the affected region for creating growth-oriented conditions.
  6. Armed rebel or conflict, destructive violent activities, separatist or secessionist activities providing any kind of direct or indirect threat to the unity, integrity and sovereignty of India are enlisted as new crimes and incorporated separate penal actions for them.
  7. Committing crime and flying away or encouraging terrorist or criminal activities by supporting logistically or financially from outside India is a penal offence under new laws, in which foreign based Indian nationals or foreign nationals will also be prosecuted accordingly.
  8. Summary trials for petty crimes are mandatory and a magistrate can conduct the cases in these matters up to three years.
  9. Records of all arrested persons are mandatory for all police stations online and videography is made compulsory in presence of two neutral witnesses during search and seizure operations. For effective case management new “Zero FIR” mechanism has been institutionalised.
  10. A free copy of an FIR is mandatorily to be provided to the victim.
  11. The new set of laws characterises three prominent features;
    1. The opportunity to be heard – Audi alteram partem
    2. The right to information
    3. The right to compensation for damages to the accused. (This is first time in the history of Independent India the right to compensation for damages is incorporated in case the person is wrongfully arrested and prosecuted. Till now no such provision was there in the laws).
  12. As proactive measure to eradicate corruption from the justice process there is a provision of director of prosecution at state and district level who will monitor the appeal in the higher courts and it is mandatory in the criminal cases to take the decisions within 120 days of registration.
  13. Directorate of Prosecution – is a transformative arrangement made under new laws where Directorates of Prosecution will be established in every state. Further at district level Directorate of Prosecution will be comprised of many Deputy Directors and several Assistant Directors. The Directors will ascertain the merits of the cases and will decide whether there is need to make appeal in cases involving sentences above 10 years. The sentences between 7-10 years will be decided by the Deputy Directors and cases involving sentences below 5 years will be decided by the Assistant Directors. This is the first time in the history of Independent India judiciary is strengthened through such mechanism which will not only decide the cases in timebound manner but will maintain coherence in judicial mechanism.
  14. For effective justice delivery efficient case management system is essential in this regard during the entire prosecution period of the case, the police, prosecutors and the respective judiciary at all levels are provided provisions in to conclude in time bound manner. The investigation is desired to be completed in 90 days, for cognizance of the case time frame is also provided as per the level of threat or crime, the judiciary will have to deliver verdict within 45 days after completing the hearing of the matter in criminal cases.
  15. One of the important changes brought under the new system for the first time in the judicial history of India is pertaining to the proclaimed offenders where the accused is convicted for the period of 10 years or more, life imprisonment or death sentence. In such cases the fugitive’s or offender’s property within the country or outside the country will be attached. This is significant in the matters like Mumbai blast case terror convict Dawood, or fugitives who fled the country by committing crimes. Such provision will make their extradition case stronger.
  16. In addition, with the Directorates the non-coherent classification of types of judges will bring only four types of judges;
    1. Second Class Judicial Magistrates
    2. First Class Judicial Magistrates
    3. Sessions Judges
    4. Executive Magistrates (Indian Express, 2024).
  17. It will bring parity amongst judiciary and will eliminate Metropolitan Magistrates and Assistant Sessions Judge from the conventional judicial administration. This timely introduction of directorates will bring systematic coherence and will expedite the justice delivery mechanism.

  18. Trials can be conducted online and with the conducive supporting digital infrastructure the justice delivery is mandatory in time bound manner.

With the notification of the new laws the old sections and laws will be seen written in the brackets with the new laws. For bringing more awareness and avoid confusion the MHA is introducing app-based mechanism to provide greater domain awareness and keep these sections handy for legal professionals, jurists and practioners and will bring clarity in masses to understand these new laws.

Overall, these new laws will not only expedite the justice delivery process but with the help of technology and time bound procedures it will strengthen transparency and efficiency in the criminal justice mechanism. It has introduced systematic coherence amongst related stakeholders. The clear defining feature and stringent penal action will truly deter the criminals and terrorising elements of the society. The successive new provisions and sections introduced will ensure more accountability of Police and curtail arbitrary actions of the law enforcing authorities. This will restrain criminals from taking undue advantages and facilitate apt ability of police to act swiftly.

Does this transformation is just introduced overnight? Or just introduced like the past laws without legislative and executive discussions and deliberations? No, due consultations were made in detail with all stakeholders from the judiciary, legislatives and executives. In addition, the entire justice delivery mechanism and necessary stakeholders were comprehensively strengthened through apt budgetary allocations with able resources and system integrations.

On technological front for strengthening the police and law enforcing agencies the Government of India have decided to enhance the capabilities in various fields. An ambitious Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and Systems (CCTNS) was introduced with swift connectivity across Secured Data Connectivity (SDC) on mission mode under modernisation project of National e-Governance Plan (NeGP), Ministry of Home Affairs (Government of India N. , 2009). The CCTNS was first introduced in 2009 by the Ministry of Home Affairs as an extension of the Common Integrated Police Application (CIPA) project started in 2004 by MHA as a component of “Modernisation of State Police Forces” project. It was later prioritised since 2015 onwards by providing necessary budgetary and resource allocation (Government of India P. M., 2017). The modernisation of Police Force was first brought as a priority after a comprehensive security review was conducted at national level by the “Kargil Review Committee” led by then Dy Prime Minister Shri L K Adwani (Government of India M. , 2010) (Government of India, 2000).

The impact of CCTNS was further strengthened with the integration of data with other prominent aspect of criminal justice systems i.e., Prisons, Prosecutions, Forensics and Fingerprints etc. This integrated collective mechanism is called as “Interoperable Criminal Justice System (ICJS)” (Supreme Court of India, 2019). CCTNS in hand with ICJS have led Ministry of Home Affairs towards effective law enforcement and proved to be a force multiplier. ICJS takes data sharing to a higher level and ensures that only source of truth between law enforcement and judicial system is available thus improving the operational efficacy of the Criminal justice system. Some of the prominent aspects of ICJS such as e-Forensics, e-Prosecutions and e-Prisons have enhanced the capabilities of criminal justice system manifold and further integration has provided added strength and made it more comprehensive (Government of India M. , 2021). The e-filing of the case is now a reality where the cases can be filed round the clock using Supreme Court interface. It is the end-to-end solution develop to file plaints, written statements, replies and various applications related to the cases. Through this interface both civil and criminal cases can be filed at the district and high courts of the Country and has bilingual feature i.e. English and the language of the state for wider reach (Supreme Court of India, About - e Filing, 2024) (ToI News Desk, 2024). Now with the help of technology the Supreme Court has initiated the war room which would enable the Supreme Court with capabilities to monitor judicial data on real time basis of entire country using National Judicial Data Grid (NUDG) and i-Juris (The Law Advice, 2024).

As on October 1, 2023 the CCTNS has been implemented in 16851 Police Stations, e-Forensics 117 forensic science laboratories, eProsecution in 751 Prosecution districts, eCourts in 3501 court complexes, ePrisons in 1318 Prisons across states and Union Territories. Crime and Criminal search/query facility is provided to the law enforcing agencies for effective and timely resolution of the case. National Automated Fingerprint Identification System (NAFIS) has been established at 1022 locations across India. In order to improve investigation, the Ministry of Home Affairs have strengthened the DNA analysis units in all Central and State Forensic Science Laboratories. (Government of India M. , 2023) (Government of India M. , 2021) (Government of India M. , 2022).

Amongst these CCTNS deployed Police Stations all Police Stations have been issuing First Information Reports (FIRs) digitally through CCTNS (Government of India M. , 2021). Along with CCTNS the Government of India has also aided all the states and the Union Territories to develop their capabilities for effectively dealing with the cybercrimes and have provided qualitative financial support through various schemes. In this direction, the MHA has recently established Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre (I4C) on October 5, 2018, and is commissioned on January 10, 2020 (Government of India M. , 2020). For effective handling of organised crimes and financial frauds the Ministry of Home Affairs have established seven Joint Cyber Coordination Teams (JCCTs) for ill famous areas of Mewat (Haryana), Jamtara (Jharkhand), Ahmedabad (Gujarat), Hyderabad (Telangana), Chandigarh (Punjab and Haryana), Visakhapattanam (Andhra Pradesh) and Guwahati (Assam) under I4C. The state-of-the-art National Cyber Forensic Laboratory (Investigation) has been established as a core component of I4C at New Delhi and National Cyber Forensic Laboratory (Evidence) has been set up at Hyderabad. It has provided services to state law enforcing agencies in 8840 Cyber Forensics like mobile forensics, memory forensics, CDR analysis etc. National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal – (https://cybercrime.gov.in/) and Citizen Financial Cyber Fraud Reporting and Management System (CFCFRMS) have been launched where till November 2023 nearly 12.77 lacs complaints have been received (Government of India M. , 2023). Due to the swift action the CFCFRMS have saved more than ₹930 crores in 3.80 lacs complains it received. For effective training of the police officials at central and state level Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) platform, namely CyTrain portal has been developed under I4C and more than 72800 Police officers from states and UTs have been trained by I4C (Government of India M. , 2024).

Along with these systematic transformative reforms the government systematically invested in strengthening overall infrastructure, technological capabilities, indigenous research and development, growth-oriented technology-based reforms in financial sector have truly transformed economic landscape of India in last 10 years making it one of the assuring spot for foreign direct investment (Bazas, 2024). The core policy focus on police modernisation truly echoed from the Government’s smart policing initiative where the capabilities of Police is strengthened through technological interface and system integration. Aptly stated by the PM Modi during recent 58th DGP and IGP conference at Jaipur where he stated that with the enabling technological reforms the newly introduced criminal laws are framed with the spirit of ‘Citizen First, Dignity First, and Justice First’ and further informed Police leadership that instead of working with ‘Danda’ (Cane), police now need to work with ‘Data’ (Government of India P. P., 2024). The core theme of 58th DGP and IGP conference at Jaipur was on Cyber Security, Internal Security, Legal reforms and human trafficking. The facilitating use of technology has empowered Citizen Police Interaction. Similarly, the transformative use of technology by the judiciary have also enhanced public interaction through engaging means like availability of Supreme Court Judgements in every Indian language, real time data and case management etc (Government of India P. , 2023).

These assuring changes have been introduced and supported by apt budgetary and resource allocation the government have strengthened the overall elements of national security. The introduction new laws backed by technological advancements along with time bound process reflect the fact that the proactive sense must prevail while outlining preventive measures justifying policy actions. These comprehensive reforms are not mere bureaucratic/technocratic/judicial actions but reflecting India’s sovereign commitment towards national security which is of paramount importance. It further underscores the vigilant national will and pulse to effectively deal with the menace of crime in an effective manner. This will truly insinuate the rise of India on global horizon.

Notes

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(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>


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