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New laws bring new challenges

New laws bring new challenges

A worry is that the new laws can be wielded with greater effect to curb citizens’ rights.

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Last Updated : 02 July 2024, 22:01 IST
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The implementation of the new criminal laws — the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, the Bharatiya Nagrik Suraksha Sanhita, and the Bharatiya Sakshya Adhiniyam, which have replaced the Indian Penal Code, the Criminal Procedure Code, and the Indian Evidence Act — is a historic milestone in India’s justice system. There was consensus that many of the laws, some in existence for more than a century, needed change.

However, a strong view posits that the government made a total overhaul where amendments to individual laws would have been sufficient. It is possible the government was driven by the wish to put its stamp on the new system, and the question of why the laws only carry Hindi names has not been answered. Consultations with states and other stakeholders, before the new laws were framed, were inadequate. Some states, including Karnataka, are now planning amendments. Most importantly, the government got the Bills passed without a proper debate, and by a voice vote after the suspension of 146 Opposition MPs. 

There are some positives. The Bills simplify some procedures and promise quicker and more efficient delivery of justice. Crimes can be reported via electronic communication. Individuals can now file FIRs from any police station, and forensic examination is mandatory in the case of all serious crimes. Time limits have been set for framing of charges, adjournments, and judgements.

While the government has said that all these are victim-centric reforms, there are concerns that the police have been given more powers. The police can now hold a suspect for a longer period than before. More crimes have been introduced, and fines and jail terms have been increased for many offences. Though the Supreme Court has suspended all sedition cases, and the government has claimed that it has done away with the sedition law, it has come back in a new form. A worry is that the new laws can be wielded with greater effect to curb citizens’ rights.

Implementation is a concern, too. The government has fast-tracked implementation before training and preparing the law-enforcement machinery for it. At every level, including the police, the legal fraternity, and even the judiciary, there is likely to be confusion. Two parallel systems will run concurrently, because all the cases registered before June 30 will be tried under the old laws, and those registered after June 30 will be tried under the new laws. This will be extremely challenging when over 30 million cases are pending. The law enforcement system, including the judiciary, is grossly lacking in infrastructure, and it will now have to cope with the new demands made on it.

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