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Committee for Reforms in Criminal Law

  • IASbaba
  • August 19, 2020
  • 0
UPSC Articles
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POLITY/ GOVERNANCE

Topic: General Studies 2:

  • Functions and responsibilities of the Union and the States 
  • Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

Committee for Reforms in Criminal Law

Context: In July 2020, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) constituted the Committee for Reforms in Criminal Law to undo the colonial foundations of our criminal law

Why there is a need to reform Criminal Laws?

  • Long Pending: The Indian Penal Code and its corollary laws, the Indian Evidence Act and the Code of Criminal Procedure, were all first enacted in the late 19th-century that have not undergone comprehensive revision
  • Colonial Hangover: IPC & CrPC were largely formalised to aid the colonial government in India, over 150 years ago. They are still rooted in colonial ideas despite amendments & judgements
  • Lacks Adequate recognition of Individual agency: IPC do not reflect the aspirations of a Constitution that gives primacy to liberty and equality. 
  • Still represent Victorian Morality: While it took 158 years for the courts to decriminalise homosexuality (section 377 of IPC) and adultery, there exists many provisions in the IPC that still echoes Victorian morality, which is especially true for women.
  • Ignorant of modern-age crimes: New crimes need to be defined and addressed in IPC, especially concerning technology and sexual offences. Ex: digital technology facilitating gambling and betting

Criticisms of the Committee

  1. Not designed for effective Broad-based Public Consultation Process
  • The exclusive route to participation is the Committee’s website. However, only about 40% of the population actively uses the Internet.
  • All the Committee’s documentation and background resources, including 89 reports of the Law Commission of India (LCI), are in English. Only 10% of the Indian population speaks English, and most such persons reside in urban areas.
  • The life cycle of the Committee coincides with the COVID-19 pandemic, which prevent marginalised groups to participate meaningfully in the public consultation process
  1. Composition of Committee is not representative enough
  • There appears to be no representation on the Committee from subaltern caste, gender, sexual, or religious groups, who are frequently let down by the criminal justice system
  • It appears there is no representation from working class or disabled communities
  • Also, there are no members on the Committee based outside of a limited geographic region in north India
  1. Opacity in Committee’s functioning
  • There are no published Terms of Reference
  • The precise mandate of the Committee has not been put into the public domain
  • There is nothing to explain why an ad hoc Committee was set up to deal with questions of law reform, that are typically entrusted to the Law Commission of India
  • The Committee has not undertaken to publish the representations it receives from the public during its consultation process.
  1. Short-duration for public consultation process
  • Within three months, respondents are expected to form and articulate reasoned opinions on almost every conceivable issue of criminal law, procedure or evidence. 
  • In contrast, the Malimath Committee, which had a comparable mandate, took five times as long as this Committee to submit its report.
  • The first of the current Committee’s six consultative questionnaires contains 46 questions with no formal documentation explaining the context and relevance of these questions.
  • All these diminishes the prospects of productive deliberation among stakeholders.

Conclusion

An inclusive, transparent and meaningful public consultation process for law-making is one practical way to implement a deliberative version of democracy.

Connecting the dots:

  • Charter Act of 1833 that established First law commission in 1834 under the Chairmanship of Lord Macaulay – recommendations led to drafting of IPC

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