The Indian Constitution, the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), and the Indian Evidence Act are the four pillars of the Indian judicial system. The Constitution guarantees fundamental rights, the process for resolving civil disputes is laid out in the IPC and the resolution of criminal disputes is governed by CrPC. The law that applies to all disputes that require production of any form of evidence (documents, statements of an individual etc.) is enshrined in the Evidence Act of 1872 (Evidence Act).
The Evidence Act however needed updating to address the challenges caused by modernization of the society. The evolution of the legal system was long overdue to serve the needs of a rapidly changing society and the proposed revamp of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, Criminal Procedure Code, 1898, 1973 and Indian Evidence Act, 1872 is a step in that direction.
Criminal Procedure Code, 1898 [CrPC] will be replaced by Bhartiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita Bill, 2023 and will have 533 sections. It is proposed to change 160 sections of old law, 9 new sections have been added and 9 sections have been repealed.
Indian Penal Code, 1860, will be replaced by Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita Bill 2023 and will have 356 sections instead of the earlier 511 sections. 175 sections have been changed, 8 new sections have been added and 22 sections have been repealed.
The Evidence Act, 1872 will be replaced by Bharatiya Sakshya Bill, 2023, and will now have 170 sections instead of the earlier 167. 23 sections have been changed, 1 new section has been added and 5 have been repealed.
Feedback was sought from 18 States, 6 Union Territories, the Supreme Court, 16 High Courts, 5 Judicial Academies, 22 Law Universities, 142 Members of Parliament, around 270 MLAs and public and the discussions went on for 4 years.
Key changes and provisions:
The amendment expands the definition of documents to include electronic or digital records, e-mails, server logs, computers, smart phones, laptops, SMS, websites, locational evidence, mails, messages on devices. Provision has been made to digitize the entire process from First Information Report [FIR] to case diary, case diary to charge sheet and charge sheet to judgement. Videography has been made compulsory at the time of search and seizure which will be part of the case and will not implicate innocent citizens, without such recording by the police, no charge sheet will be valid.
It is proposed to set up the National Forensic Science University up to promote forensic science in a bid to increase the conviction ration. After 3 years, the university is expected to churn out 33,000 forensic science experts and scientists every year. The visit of the forensic team is being made compulsory on the crime scene of crimes having provision for punishment of 7 years or more.
It is proposed to start zero FIR for the convenience of the citizens, wherein, the citizens will be able to lodge complaint even outside of their police station area. When a police station receives a complaint regarding an alleged offence committed in the jurisdiction of another police station, it registers an FIR and then transfers it to the relevant police station for further investigation it is called a zero FIR.
Provision of e-FIR is being added for the first time, every district and police station will designate a police officer who will officially inform the family of the arrested person about his arrest online and in person.
In cases of sexual violence, the statement of the victim has been made compulsory and the video recording of the statement in the cases of sexual harassment, has been made compulsory.
It will be compulsory for the Police to give the status of the complaint in 90 days and thereafter every 15 days, to the complainant.
No government will be able to withdraw a case of imprisonment of 7 years or more without listening to the victim, this is done to will protect the rights of the citizens.
Scope of summary trial has been increased in petty cases, now crimes punishable up to 3 years will be included in summary trial. This provision is expected to end more than 40% of cases in sessions courts.
The charge sheet will have to be filled within 90 days and depending on the situation, the court can further give permission for further 90 days. The investigation will have to be completed within 180 days and trial should begin after that.
Courts will now be bound to give notice of framing of charge to the accused person within 60 days. The Hon’ble Judge will be tie bound to give verdict within 30 days after the completion of the arguments and the order will have to be made available online, within 7 days.
For a trail against a civil servant or a police officer, the government has to decide on permission within 120 days for trial or else, it will be treated as deemed permission and trial will start.
As per the new provisions, the properties of declared offenders, will now be attached. Harsh punishments against inter-state gangs and organized crimes have also been added.
It will now be a crime to seek sexual favours under the pretext of false promise of marriage, employment, promotion, and false identity. All cases of gang rape will carry 20 years of imprisonment or life imprisonment.
Crimes with regards to girls below 18 years could attract death penalty. Mob lynching will attract all 3 provisions of 7 years in jail, life imprisonment and capital punishment.
The rising cases of snatching of mobile phone or chain from women, has prompted the law makers to take cognizance of the same and make appropriate provisions for such cases.
Punishment increased from 7 to 10 years for a person committing crime against children, while provisions have been made to increase the amount of fine in many crimes.
‘No culprit will be freed’ is the new mantra and now the death penalty can only be reduced to life imprisonment, life imprisonment to a minimum of 7 years and 7 years to a minimum of 3 years.
Earlier, there was no definition of terrorism, now crimes like armed insurgency, subversive activities, separatism, challenging the unity, sovereignty and integrity of India have been defined in this law for the first time.
Now trial can take place in absentia: a person declared fugitive by a Sessions Court judge will be tried and sentenced in his absence, no matter where in the world he may be hiding, if the fugitive must appeal against punishment, he will have to follow Indian law.
A total of 313 changes have been made in this law which will bring a widespread change in India’s criminal justice system, now anyone will be able to get justice within a maximum of 3 years.
Special care has been taken to provide safety for women and children, there is an attempt to ensure that criminals are punished and there is no misuse of powers. The changes that are proposed to be introduced have been long overdue as India has still been following laws laid down almost 100 years ago.
Meanwhile, with the socio-economic changes in the society, it is necessary to have a law that is up to date with the modern electronic progress at the same is inclusive and balances the scales of justice and equality