[Answered]“There is an urgent need to reform the criminal justice system in India.” Discuss in light of recent failures of criminal justice in India.

Demand of the question

Introduction. Contextual introduction.

Body. Poor criminal justice system in India. Reasons for this.

Conclusion. Way forward.

 The Criminal Justice System (CJS) encompasses a series of institutions, agencies, and processes established by the government to curb crime in the nation. In India article 21 guarantees the right to speedy justice as a fundamental right. But according to Prison Statistics 2015, out of the total 4,20,000 inmates in various jails across the country, 2,82,076 or 67.2% were undertrials prisoners reflecting gross injustice and broken criminal justice system in India.

Issues with criminal justice system in India:

  1. With nearly 30 million criminal cases pending in the system (the annual capacity of which is only half that number), and with another 10 million or more cases being added every year, whatever is left of the system is bound to collapse completely unless some radical alternatives are adopted urgently.
  2. Even after adjusting for increasing population, India’s crime rate has been rising over the years. The decade from 2005 to 2015 saw a 28% increase in complaints of cognisable offences, from 450 per lakh population to 580.
  3. According to the National Crime Records Bureau:
  • More than 80% of reported crimes went unpunished due to several reasons and the loopholes in the present criminal justice system.
  • More than 66% of India’s prisoners are undertrials, which is over twice the global average of 32%. Of these 2,54,857 undertrials, more than 2,000 have been in prison for over five years. Overburdened by the flood of arrestees (nearly 75 lakh were arrested in 2012, according to the National Crime Records Bureau), prisons have experienced an increase in the number of undertrials and overcrowding.
  • India has one of the lowest police-population ratios, of 131.1 officers per 1,00,000 population (against the UN norms of 222). Corruption is also an endemic problem.
  1. Transparency International found that 62% of people reported paying bribes during their interactions with the police. Misaligned incentives to arrest persons (for example, to demonstrate the progress of investigations) have resulted in 60 per cent of all arrests being “unnecessary or unjustified”.
  2. Against a UN norm of 222 police personnel per lakh of population, India’s officially sanctioned strength is a paltry 181, and the actual strength is an abysmal 137. Similarly, all the judges in the country add up to just 18 per million population, despite a three-decades old Law Commission recommendation to increase it to 50, which itself is at the low end of the ratio in developed countries.
  3. There are also enormous shortfalls in the number of police chowkis, weapons, forensic science laboratories (FSLs) and the like. For example, Nearly a million items sent for forensic examination in India, representing a shocking 38% of all such cases, remain unattended for a year or more.

Reasons for poor criminal justice system:

  1. Underproductive: The criminal laws are out-dated. This has led to harassment of innocent civilians by the government agencies and very high pressure on the judiciary to dispose-off the cases with limited and redundant laws. For example, Dramatic Performance Act, 1876.
  2. The inefficiency of Judiciary: The system takes years to bring justice and has ceased to deter criminals. Furthermore, there is no cooperation between the judiciary, prosecutors and the police. Many of the guilty go scot-free while the innocent remain on under-trial. According to the NCRB data, about 67.2% of the total prison population consists of under-trial prisoners.
  3. The complexity of crime: The number of crimes has increased rapidly in recent times and the nature of crimes is also increasingly becoming more complex due to technological growth and innovation. India’s criminal justice system is not encompassing the new era’s novel crimes. Inefficient investigation procedures have led to a haphazard investigation of crimes and delayed justice. Increase in cyber-crimes, fake news, mob-lynching etc are some complex crimes.
  4. Access to justice: The rich and the powerful are hardly convicted even for serious crimes. The ever-growing connection between politics and crimes is making justice of the poor and the marginalised society highly difficult.

5.Lack of public confidence: In the current times, the civilians have stopped relying on the CJS as it is expensive, complicated, inefficient and has long-winded procedures. This has led to current social problems like mob lynching. Recently, sub-inspector was being lynched by a mob.

Way forward:

  1. Penal code: Penal code should be modified to incorporate the present day societal, economic, and other changes.The Penal code can be divided into various codes incorporating social offences, correctional offences, economic offences and a Indian penal code (which will deal with cases that warrant 10 years punishment or more).
  2. Police processes: Institutional reform including proper investigation of crimes, rationalisation of court systems by inducting technology, limiting appeal procedures to a minimum. In Prakash Singh vs Union of India, Supreme Court ordered that reform must take place. The states and union territories were directed to comply with seven binding directives that would kick start reform.
  3. Victim centric: The system should be victim centric to ensure that the victims get justice. The victim should get a chance to put forth his case and quick completion of trials is needed to ensure that they do not lose faith in the system.Fixing responsibility quickly and transparently will maximise the sense of justice to the victim.
  4. Prison reforms: Reforming the property based bail system, provision of proper legal support to remove problem of undertrials, improvement of prison conditions is needed.Thus, India needs to reform its archaic system to incorporate more efficient practices like restorative justice, plea bargaining, etc. that will ensure a more robust criminal justice system.
  5. Malimath committee has recommended many reforms which need to be implemented. Some of the important recommendations of the Malimath committee are as follows:
  • Need for more judges to dispose-off a large number of pending cases.
  • Constitution of a National Judicial Commission to deal with the appointment of judges to the higher courts and amendment of Article 124 to make impeachment of judges.
  • Creation of separate criminal division in higher courts that have judges specialising in criminal laws.
  • Article 20 (3) of the Constitution, which protects the accused from being compelled to be a witness against himself/herself, needs to be modified. The courts should be given freedom to question the accused to give information and draw an adverse inference against the accused in case the latter refuses to answer.
  • Victim Compensation Fund should be created under the victim compensation law and the assets confiscated from organised crimes should be made a part of it.

Criminal Justice System in India is currently in a state of uncertainty and is highly unpopular due to its inefficiency. Clearly, the reforms in India’s Criminal Justice System are a need of the hour. The government needs to draft a clear policy that can inform changes in the Indian Penal Code and Code of Criminal Procedures. The reforms should not only make CJSI more efficient but also be sensitive to both the innocent and the needs of the law enforcing officers.

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