India plans to revamp British-era criminal justice system

Proposed new laws involve increasing punishment for lynching

India Home Minister Amit Shah presented draft legislation to overhaul India's criminal justice system. AFP
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The Indian government on Friday presented three bills to replace its criminal justice system based on British colonial-era legislation, overhauling laws relating to cases of sexual assault, crimes against children, lynching and crimes against the state.

The Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, 2023, the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita, 2023 and the Bharatiya Sakshya Bill, 2023, were introduced in the lower house of Parliament by Home Minister Amit Shah on the last day of the parliament's monsoon session.

"The laws that will be repealed, the focus of those laws was to protect and strengthen the British administration, the idea was to punish and not to give justice," Mr Shah said. "By replacing them, the new three laws will bring the spirit to protect the rights of the Indian citizen."

They will replace, respectively, the Indian Penal Code — the criminal code introduced by the British in 1862; the Code of Criminal Procedure, covering procedures for arrest, investigation and trial, which was been amended several times since it was introduced in 1882; and the Indian Evidence Act, which outlines evidence admissible in courts, introduced in 1872.

“The government considered it expedient and necessary to review the existing criminal laws with an aim to strengthen law and order and focus on simplifying legal procedures to ensure ease of living to the common man."

The bills will be sent to a parliamentary panel for further scrutiny before they are debated by the house.

The Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita bill proposes specific time frames for investigation, trial and pronouncement of judgments.

The government has proposed to add new offences related to secession, armed rebellion, subversive activities, separatist activities and endangering sovereignty or unity and integrity of India under the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita.

Mr Shah said with cases of lynching increasing, the bill proposes punishments from seven years to life imprisonment and the death penalty.

The overhaul proposes to introduce community service as a punishment for lesser offences.

With the Bharatiya Sakshya Bill, the government proposes to allow digital or electronic records as evidence, as well as the appearance of witnesses, defendants, experts and victims through electronic means.

Updated: August 12, 2023, 3:33 AM