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Breaking the Chains of the Past: India’s Historic Legal Reforms in 2023

In historic legal reforms stride toward modernizing its legal framework, India has embarked on a transformative journey in 2023. On August 11th of that year, Union Home Minister Amit Shah introduced three groundbreaking bills in the Lok Sabha, aimed at ushering in a new era of justice. These bills seek to repeal and replace the British-era Indian Penal Code, the Indian Evidence Act, and the Code of Criminal Procedure, foundational pillars of India’s historic legal system for over a century.

The proposed 313 revisions embedded within these bills promise to not only erase the lingering colonial influences but also overhaul the entire criminal justice system. This article delves into the intricacies of these momentous changes, exploring their implications, the key features of the new bills, and the pressing need for such a monumental transformation in India’s legal landscape.

On August 11, 2023, three bills to remove the British-era Indian Penal Code, the Indian Evidence Act, and the Code of Criminal Procedure were introduced in the Lok Sabha by Union Home Minister Amit Shah. According to Mr. Shah, the proposed 313 revisions will completely alter the criminal justice system.

Historic Legal Reforms
Historic Legal Reforms

The Indian Penal Code (IPC), the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), and the Indian Evidence Act, all of which were enacted under the British rule in India, are being repealed and replaced by three measures that were recently filed by the Union Home Minister in the Lok Sabha. 

The IPC, 1860 will be replaced by the Bharatiya Nyay Sanhita Bill, 2023 and the CrPC, 1898 will be replaced by the Bhartiya Nagrik Suraksha Sanhita Bill, 2023 and the Bharatiya Sakshya Bill, 2023, which will replace the Evidence Act, 1872. The Indian Penal Code (IPC) is the country’s official criminal code and was created in 1860 following the establishment of India’s first law commission in 1834 as a result of the Charter Act of 1833

The Indian Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) specifies the methods for enforcing criminal law. It was passed in 1973 and went into force on April 1st, 1974.

first approved the Indian Evidence Act in 1872, during the British Raj, and it provides a collection of guidelines and related matters governing the admissibility of evidence in Indian courts of law. 

The bills that would change the Code of Criminal Procedure (CRPC), the Evidence Act, and the Indian Penal Code (IPC) include a wide range of significant provisions meant to remedy numerous flaws in the criminal justice system. In order to provide light on their potential repercussions and the larger legal environment they want to modify, this essay conducts a thorough analytical study of the proposed revisions.

The revised versions of the Indian Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Code, and Indian Evidence Act all feature a few significant revisions. If the goal was to address the colonial overhang in the legal system, leaving police reforms unaddressed was a significant mistake.

Why This Sudden Change in India’s Criminal Laws?

These laws were littered with references to slavery. We recently accepted it after the British Parliament passed it. The UK Parliament, London Gazette, Privilege Council, and the British Crown all make reference to them. There are 475 instances of this. This rapid change has been implemented as a result.

What Constitutes the Bharatiya Nyay Sanhita Bill, 2023’s Key Features?

  • The bill specifies terrorism as well as crimes like separatism, armed rebellion against the government, and undermining national sovereignty that were previously specified under separate legal rules.
  • It does away with the crime of sedition, which was widely decried as a remnant of colonial times that stifled criticism and free speech.
  • The maximum sentence for mob lynching, which has become a serious problem recently, is set at the death penalty.
  • It suggests a 10-year sentence for engaging in sexual activity with a woman under false pretences of marriage, which is a frequent type of fraud and exploitation.
  • The measure establishes community service as a form of punishment for particular offences, which can aid in prisoners’ rehabilitation and lessen prison congestion.
  • The law establishes a maximum deadline of 180 days for the filing of a charge sheet, which might hasten the trial process and avoid protracted delays.

What Constitutes The Bhartiya Nagrik Suraksha Sanhita Bill, 2023’s key features?

  • It encourages the use of technology in trials, appeals, and the recording of depositions, enabling hearings to be conducted via video conferencing.
  • The measure requires survivors of sexual assault to have their statements videotaped, which can assist preserve evidence and prevent coercion or manipulation.
  • According to the bill, police must notify a complainant of the status of their complaint within 90 days. This requirement can increase accountability and openness.
  • The CrPC’s Section 41A shall henceforth be known as Section 35. With this amendment, a new safety measure is included, stating that no arrests may be taken without prior consent from an officer with at least the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), especially in cases where the maximum sentence is less than three years or where the suspect is older than 60.
  • To guarantee that justice is not tainted or withheld, the measure mandates that police contact the victim before dropping a case that carries a sentence of seven years or more.
  • It enables judges to try and sentence fugitives in absentia, which can discourage them from evading justice.
  • It gives magistrates the authority to consider offences based on electronic records like emails, SMSs, WhatsApp messages, etc., which can make gathering and examining evidence easier.
  • The Governor must receive mercy requests in cases involving death sentences within 30 days, and the President must receive them within 60 days.
  • The President’s decision cannot be appealed in any court.

What Constitutes the Bhartiya Sakshya Bill, 2023’s Key Features?

  • According to the bill, electronic evidence is any data produced or sent by a system or device that can be kept or accessed in any way.
  • In order to avoid the misuse or alteration of digital data, it lays down particular requirements for the admissibility of electronic evidence, such as authenticity, integrity, and reliability.
  • It includes unique guidelines for DNA evidence admissibility, including consent and custody chain requirements, which can improve the precision and dependability of biological evidence.
  • It acknowledges expert testimony as a type of evidence, alongside things like medical advice, handwriting analysis, etc., that can help establish facts or circumstances important to a case.
  • It establishes the presumption of innocence as a cornerstone of the criminal justice system, which states that everyone accused of a crime is deemed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

What Words Have Been Obliterated From All The Acts?

  • Parliament of the United Kingdom
  • Provincial Act
  • London Gazette
  • Jury, Barrister, Lahore, Commonwealth
  • United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
  • Her Majesty’s Government
  • Possession of the British Crown 
  • Court of Justice in England
  • Her Majesty’s Dominions 

The new criminal legislation is the consequence of an earlier suggestion. In order to submit recommendations for changes to the IPC, CrPC, and the Indian Evidence Act, the Centre established a Criminal Law Reforms Committee in March 2020. The Committee then solicited feedback from the general public before submitting a report to the Government in 2022. We now anticipate that introducing these bills will significantly improve India’s judicial system.

Conclusion

In an age marked by rapid social and technological progress, India’s legal system is not to be left behind. The introduction of the Bharatiya Nyay Sanhita Bill, Bhartiya Nagrik Suraksha Sanhita Bill, and Bhartiya Sakshya Bill in 2023 signifies a pivotal moment in the nation’s legal history. The decision to part ways with colonial-era laws and embrace a modern, more inclusive, and technologically advanced legal framework reflects a commitment to justice, accountability, and progress.

These changes not only signify a necessary shift but also embody the essence of a nation poised for transformation. As India embarks on this journey, it is our hope that these reforms will indeed significantly improve the country’s judicial system, ensuring justice and fairness for all, and setting a shining example for other nations facing similar historical legacies.

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Aayushi Chopra
Aayushi Chopra
Aayushi Chopra is a law student who is interested in creating content on education, lifestyle, law, health, and environment. She enjoys researching different topics and then expressing her views on them.
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