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Recently, the Union Ministry asked all state governments to send their suggestions for Reforms in Criminal Laws as a major overhaul and recasting of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), thus paving way for reforming criminal justice system of India.



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  • Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD) will undertake review of the laws such as IPC, CrPC, Indian Evidence Act and Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act.
    • BPRD under Ministry of Home Affairs was set up in 1970 in furtherance of the objective of the Government for the modernisation of police forces.

Need for reforms in Criminal laws (IPC and CrPC)

  • To make the laws more moral and ethical:
  • Some penal code offences need to be dropped
  • to make the code consistent with the new
  • ideals of constitutional morality, viz. the narrowest possible definitions of crimes, presumption of innocence etc.
  • To give a fair share to individual: In a criminal justice system, since an accused as an individual is pitted against the might of the state, criminal law must ensure that the state does not take undue advantage of its position as prosecutor.
    • To get rid of obsolete and archaic provisions: Criminal and penal codes need substantial changes to fit into the liberty model and its obsolete provisions must go. IPC was intended to be regularly revised by legislative amendment. This did not happen, as a result the courts had to undertake this task upon themselves. The result was not very satisfactory as most amendments have been ad hoc and merely reactive.
    • To remove ambiguity and vagueness: For instance, the distinction between ‘culpable homicide’ and ‘murder’ is criticised as the ‘weakest part of the code’ as definitions are obscure. ‘Culpable homicide’ is defined, but ‘homicide’ is not defined at all.

Way Ahead for Reforms in Criminal Laws

Any revision of the IPC, therefore, needs to be done while keeping several principles in mind. Such as:

  • Reforms must be introduced to uphold democratic values, and human rights must be given a high priority. Victimological underpinnings ought to be given a major thrust in reforming laws to identify the rights of crime victims.
  • Construction of new offences and reworking of the existing classification of offences must be informed by the principles of criminal jurisprudence which have substantially altered in the past four decades.
  • New types of punishments like community service orders, restitution orders, and other aspects of restorative and reformative justice could also be brought in this fold.
  • Classification of offences must be done in a manner conducive to management of crimes in the future.
  • Unprincipled criminalisation must be avoided to save the state from dealing with too many entrants into the criminal justice system.
  • On the procedural side, sentencing reforms are highly imperative. Principled sentencing is needed as judges at present have the discretion to decide the quantum and nature of sentence to be imposed.

Criminal justice is in a state of policy ambiguity therefore there is a need to draft a clear policy that should inform the changes to be envisaged in the IPC or CrPC.

About IPC and CrPC

  • IPC determines the definition of crime, while the CRPC informs about the criminal investigations process
  • Indian Penal Code: It is the official criminal code of India. It is a comprehensive code which covers all substantive aspects of criminal law. The then British Legislature drafted the Code in 1860 on the recommendations of first law commission of India established under Lord Macaulay. Legislature has amended the Code has several times and is now supplemented by other criminal provisions.
    • Ex: Section 377(Unnatural offences), Repealed Section 309(Suicide), Section 497(Adultery), now repealed
  • CrPC: It is the main legislation on procedure for administration of substantive criminal law in India. Legislature enacted it in 1973, though initially created in 1882. It provides the machinery for the investigation of crime, apprehension of suspected criminals, collection of evidence, determination of guilt or innocence of the accused person and the determination of punishment of the guilty.