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Dusting off Dostoevsky

The Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS), Bhartiya Nagrik Suraksha Sanhita (BNSS) and Bharatiya Sakshya Adhiniyam (BAS) have replaced the colonial-era British-era Indian Penal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure and Indian Evidence Act, respectively.

Dusting off Dostoevsky
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NEW DELHI: With an intent to establish a justice-oriented system based on the spirit of the Constitution, the new criminal laws came into force nationwide last week. The Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS), Bhartiya Nagrik Suraksha Sanhita (BNSS) and Bharatiya Sakshya Adhiniyam (BAS) have replaced the colonial-era British-era Indian Penal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure and Indian Evidence Act, respectively.

Features of the new laws include the enhanced use of technology, streamlining of victim protection and permitting audio-video recording of victim’s statement. Some of the reforms comprise provision for zero FIR, which allows filing an FIR at any police station regardless of jurisdiction. Online registration of police complaints, the right to file an FIR through oral or by electronic means (e-FIR), and mandatory videography of crime scenes for all heinous crimes have also been introduced.

Reworking the notion of justice delivery as a long-drawn affair is the mandate of providing a judgement on criminal cases within 45 days of completion of trial. Community service for petty crimes as well as making sexual offences gender neutral for the victim and the perpetrator have also been provided for.

There are also provisions against false promise of marriage, gang rape of minors as well as mob lynching. Leaders in the ruling party have avowed that the new laws focus on justice rather than punishment, are aimed at ensuring victim-centric justice, and that the principle of presumed innocence will reign supreme in this reformative justice model.

Experts have remarked that the efficacy of the new laws will be dependent on establishing synergy between various government bodies within the states as well as mobilising significant resources. The BNSS provides for all trials, inquiries and proceedings to be held in e-mode. This will require the presence of a robust digital infrastructure in courts across India, coupled with a concentrated push for upskilling that will enhance digital literacy across the value chain in the legal system. There is a major infrastructure upgrade on the cards for investigative agencies in the country, thanks to the provision for mandatory forensic investigations in specific kinds of crimes.

Statistics from the Bureau of Police Research & Development (BPR&D) inform us that states including Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, and Uttarakhand have as many as 10 regional forensic science labs, while there are states in the northeast that have none. In a few cases, the pendency rates in labs have touched 400%, while the vacancy rates have breached 70%. Home Minister Amit Shah recently said that the Union Cabinet has decided to set up campuses of Forensic Science University and establish six Central Forensic Laboratories in nine more States. A sum of Rs 2,080 cr has been allocated for the upgradation of the forensic science labs.

Having said that, there are aspects of the new codes that are more or less representative of old wine in a new bottle. For instance, the law on ‘sedition’ has also been replaced with secession or an act against the country’s sovereignty, unity and integrity. Clause 63 of the BNS retains the exception to marital rape.

Under the BNSS, police officials have also been given a layer of immunity in cases of dereliction in carrying out duties on the orders of an executive magistrate to disperse unlawful assembly. It goes without saying that the new criminal laws will require a bit of spit and shine to truly be decolonised, and work in favour of the wronged.

DTNEXT Bureau
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