|Introduction: Give context to the latest bills introduced in Parliament.|
Body: How do the proposed Bills address the disparities in access to justice between different social classes?
Conclusion: Way forward.
Recently Parliament introduced three new Bills which aim to transform India’s criminal laws — the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita to replace the Indian Penal Code; the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita to replace the Code of Criminal Procedure and the Bharatiya Sakshya Bill to replace the Indian Evidence Act. The Bills have the potential to transform India’s criminal justice system with far-reaching effects on the issues of sustainability, efficacy, adherence to the rule of law, and justice delivery. The principles of equality and equitability in criminal law can be traced to the principle of ‘Rule of Law’ propounded by the British jurist A.V. Dicey & mentioned in Article 14 of the Indian Constitution.
Equality in criminal law reform refers to treating all individuals equally under the law, regardless of their race, gender, socioeconomic status, religion, or any other characteristic. The principle of equality emphasizes that the law should be applied uniformly, and individuals should be treated similarly in similar situations.
Equitability in criminal law reform goes beyond simple equality and considers the particular circumstances and personal elements that may influence a person’s engagement in criminal activity. This principle acknowledges that treating everyone equally does not always lead to justice since certain people could experience difficulties or vulnerabilities that have an impact on their decisions and behaviors.
How do the proposed Bills address the disparities in access to justice between different social classes?
- Balance between security & fundamental rights: The proposed bill aims to address the balance between state security and the fundamental rights of the citizens. Eg, Sedition or Sec 124A has been completely repealed and the new Sec 150 defines offences against the state.
- Gender Inclusivity: The proposed Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, 2023, has a clause on using “deceitful means” to promise to marry a woman which did not exist in IPC. This will ensure that women are not exploited in workplaces.
- Mob Lynching: The new bill has incorporated a specific provision for mob lynching and stipulated punishment ranging from seven years in jail to the death penalty for those convicted of the crime. This will ensure that the rule of law is upheld & curb mob violence.
- Serious punishment for sexual offenses: The new bills prescribe a minimum of 20 years in prison for a person convicted of gang rape, with the maximum punishment being life imprisonment. The new bills propose the “death penalty for rape of a minor”
There needs to be wider discussion in Parliament regarding the scope of the bills and greater engagement to involve subject matter experts like jurists, lawyers, and police officers to accommodate individual rights and their participation in society. The proposed criminal law must foster the rule of law and help in the administration of justice.