Overhaul of Criminal Laws

Overhaul of Criminal Laws

This article covers “Daily Current Affairs” and the topic details “Overhaul of Criminal Laws”. The topic “Overhaul of Criminal Laws” has relevance in the “Indian Polity” section of the UPSC CSE exam.

For Prelims:

What are the new proposed Criminal Law Bills?

For Mains:

GS2:  Indian Constitution

Why in the news?

In a significant move, Union Home Minister Amit Shah has introduced three Bills in the Lok Sabha, aimed at replacing outdated colonial-era laws that include the Indian Penal Code (IPC) of 1860, the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) of 1973 (originally enacted in 1898), and the Indian Evidence Act of 1872. 


About the Bills 

The proposed Bills are named as follows:

  • Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS), 2023: Intended to substitute the IPC
  • Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita (BNSS), 2023: Intended to substitute the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC)
  • Bharatiya Sakshya (BS) Bill, 2023: Intended to substitute the Indian Evidence Act

These Bills have been referred to a standing committee for further review and consideration.


Comprehensive Changes to Criminal Laws

The introduced Bills encompass a wide range of revisions to the existing criminal laws and procedures in India:

  • Prioritizing Crimes Against Women and Children
    • In a significant move, the new penal code, known as the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, will place crimes against women and children as its primary focus. 
    • This underscores the government’s commitment to addressing gender-based violence and safeguarding the rights of vulnerable sections of society.
  • Repealing Sedition Provision
    • The proposed penal code seeks to repeal the existing provision on sedition from the Indian Penal Code (IPC). While eliminating the specific term “sedition,” the new code introduces a broader definition that encompasses acts endangering the sovereignty, unity, and integrity of India. 
    • This expansion includes activities that promote separatist sentiments or provide financial assistance to such endeavours.
  • Stricter Measures Against Sexual Exploitation
    • The Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita addresses instances of sexual exploitation under false pretenses, such as marriage, job promises, promotions, or identity concealment. 
    • Such actions will now be categorized as criminal offenses, ensuring greater protection for victims.
  • Stringent Punishment for Rape and Gangrape
    • The proposed code introduces harsh penalties for rape and gangrape cases. 
    • Perpetrators of gangrape could face imprisonment for up to 20 years or even life imprisonment, with the death penalty being an option in cases involving the rape of a minor.
  • Definition of Terrorism and its Consequences
    • A significant development is the inclusion of a formal definition of terrorism within the legal framework. 
    • The law now defines a terrorist as an individual who commits acts either within India or abroad with the intention of threatening the nation’s unity, integrity, and security. 
    • This definition also covers acts meant to intimidate the public or disrupt public order. The provision for confiscating a terrorist’s property has also been included.
  • Expedited Criminal Justice Process
    • The Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita aims to overhaul the criminal justice system, ensuring a swifter resolution of cases. 
    • The government is determined to achieve justice within a maximum of three years for all citizens, aligning with the principles of accessible and speedy justice.
  • Time-Bound Legal Procedures
    • To enhance efficiency, the proposed bill introduces time-bound procedures. 
    • A chargesheet must be filed within 90 days, with a provision for an additional 90 days upon court approval. Investigation must be concluded within 180 days, leading to trial. Following the trial, the court is mandated to deliver its judgment within 30 days.
  • Trial in Absentia
    • For individuals like fugitive criminal Dawood Ibrahim, who have evaded the law, the new code introduces trial in absentia. 
    • Session Courts can declare such individuals as absconders, facilitating trial proceedings in their absence, ultimately leading to their sentencing. 
    • This innovative approach seeks to counteract evasion of justice by individuals on the run.
  • Curtailing Political Influence in Punishment Waivers
    • To prevent the misuse of punishment waivers by political entities, the new provision stipulates that death sentences can only be commuted to life imprisonment, and such commutations can only be granted within seven years of the original sentence. 
    • This step aims to ensure accountability and discourage undue influence on sentencing decisions.
  • Leveraging Forensic Science for Higher Conviction Rates
    • A prominent focus of the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita is the utilization of forensic science to bolster conviction rates. 
    • The government aims to elevate the conviction rate to 90 percent, emphasizing the significance of scientific evidence in strengthening legal outcomes.


Concerns and Omissions in the Bills


While the new Bills address several issues, certain persistent problems in India’s criminal justice system remain unattended. Overcrowded prisons and undertrials remain a crisis, yet the Bills do not effectively tackle bail adjudication reforms. 


  • Challenges in Addressing Torture and Criminalization: 
      • While the Bills aim to criminalize torture to some extent, the absence of changes in evidence legislation regarding recovery evidence based on police statements leaves the institutional reality of torture largely unaddressed.
  • Criminalization and Punishment Approach
      • The new laws sustain the notion that criminal law is the primary response to social problems, disregarding the complexity of these problems. 
      • Relying solely on criminalization overlooks the multifaceted nature of social issues, often leading to populist solutions rather than effective problem-solving.
  • Limitations of Legislative Measures
      • While legislative changes are essential, they alone cannot provide a complete solution. The current Bills fail to rectify longstanding issues within the law and the legal process. 
      • Institutional reforms, often overlooked in favor of immediate legislative changes, are vital for substantial improvement. However, barriers to reforming institutions exist due to not only inertia but also a lack of intention and inadequate incentives.
  • Institutional Culture and Challenges
      • Addressing problematic practices in institutions like the police and prisons requires more than targeting individuals; it necessitates transforming institutional culture. 
      • While legislative changes hold importance, deeply rooted institutional realities can undermine even meaningful legislative efforts.
  • Addressing the Colonial Legacy
    • The current effort falls short of fundamentally changing the state-citizen relationship, which is necessary to truly undo the colonial legacy. 
    • A more profound transformation is needed to create a lasting and substantial change.


In conclusion, the proposed bills bring about a mix of positive changes and challenges to the Indian criminal law framework. While some provisions aim to enhance victim rights, procedural fairness, and the incorporation of modern evidence, concerns regarding vague offenses, unchecked powers, and the potential for arbitrary arrests underscore the need for thorough scrutiny and refinement of these legislative proposals.



Revamp of criminal laws: Centre brings Bills to replace IPC, CrPC, Evidence Act | India News – The Indian Express

Expert Explains: What does the proposed legislation to overhaul criminal justice system mean? | Explained News – The Indian Express 


Q1. With reference to Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, consider the following statements: 

  1. The Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita seeks to replace the term “sedition” with a broader definition that encompasses acts endangering the sovereignty, unity, and integrity of India.
  2. The new penal code, Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, will prioritize crimes against women and children.
  3. The Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita addresses instances of sexual exploitation under false pretenses, such as marriage, job promises, promotions, or identity concealment.

Which of the statements given above is/are NOT correct?

(a) 1 and 2 only

(b) 2 and 3 only

(c) 3 only 

(d) None 

Answer: (d) 


Q2. Consider the following : 

  1. The Bharatiya Sakshya (BS) Bill, 2023, is aimed at replacing the Indian Evidence Act of 1872.
  2. Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita (BNSS), 2023 seeks to replace the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908.
  3. To curb misuse of punishment waivers by political entities, the new rules allows death sentences to be changed to life imprisonment, but only within two years of the initial verdict.

How many of the abovementioned statements are correct ?

(a) Only one 

(b) Only two 

(c) All three 

(d) None

Answer: (a)

Q3. Analyse the key provisions of the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS), 2023, and discuss how it aims to reform and modernise India’s criminal justice system.

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