AA edit | Let new criminal laws strengthen democracy

The Asian Age.

Opinion, Edit

India transforms criminal justice: New laws, effective July 1, replace IPC, CrPC, and Evidence Act

Bharatiya Sakshya Act 2023: What you need to know. (Image by redgreystock on Freepik)

India will soon be witnessing an interesting transformation in an area that touches everyone’s lives — administration of criminal justice. The Union government has notified the three new criminal laws — the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, 2023, the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita, 2023, and Bharatiya Sakshya Act, 2023, which will replace Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860, the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), 1974, and the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, respectively. The laws will be in force from July 1 this year.

The nation has been following these laws made in the British Parliament and every cog in the law machine is attuned to them. They are common parlance; some of the sections in the IPC are the lingua franca of lawyer and layman alike, not to exclude the journalist and there are numerous references to them in the media and in literature. There is at a least one superhit Hindi film, Shree 420, made in 1955 that is named after the IPC section that deals with cheating and fraud. All that’s going to change now.

Although they had their origins in the British raj, the statutes had been amended and perfected through innumerable amendments and court rulings during a period that lasted more than a century and half. The government would claim that it has made changes that reflect the way this country is governed — not through imperialism but democracy. Home minister Amit Shah insists that the focus of the new set of laws is on delivering justice rather than handing down punishment. However, experts have been sceptical about the minister’s claim as the overbearing powers the administrative machinery enjoys stay intact.

But every change comes with its own sets of opportunities. In this matter, a lot of people, from the policeman in the local police station who writes the FIR to the head of the nation’s premier investigative agency, and from the clerk in the office of a lawyer who practises in the magistrate court to the Chief Justice of India, will have to get acquainted with the new nomenclature and numbering of the laws. It remains to be seen how quickly and easily they do it. One can only hope that, while doing so, they will make the laws become more oriented towards citizens of a democratic country.

Much has been written about the reintroduction of the sedition law, which was suspended by the Supreme Court as an anachronism in a democracy. It is incumbent upon the government to prove through its actions that it is not afraid of the citizen it has vowed to serve or their criticism. Laws related to terrorism in this country have always been criticised for their proclivity towards misuse. The courts need to be alive to such possibilities.

The government has dropped Sub-Section (2) of Section 106 of the BNS which provides for a harsh punishment of up to 10 years of imprisonment and a fine of Rs 7 lakh instead of the present two years provided for deaths in road accidents. The transport sector had resorted to a nationwide agitation, protesting against the new law. The government has now said the law will be implemented only after discussing it with the representatives of the industry.

Laws essentially reflect the times and the thoughts of the people who enact them. All those who have a stake in the success of the Indian republic would hope that the new laws will be implemented and interpreted in a way such that they strengthen the cause of democracy.