Union Minister of Home Affairs Amit Shah introduced three new bills in the Lok Sabha to overhaul the criminal justice system of the country. The Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS) Bill, 2023; Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita (BNSS) Bill, 2023; and Bharatiya Sakshya (BS) Bill, 2023 that will replace the Indian Penal Code, 1860, Criminal Procedure Act, 1898, and the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 respectively.
While introducing the laws, Amit Shah said, "I can assure the House that these bills will transform our criminal justice system. The aim will not be to punish, it will be to provide justice. Punishment will be given to create a sentiment of stopping crime."
Here are some key highlights of the Bills:
The Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS) Bill, 2023
This Bill seeks to replace the Indian Penal Code (1860). It seeks to give precedence to offences against women and children and murder and offences against the State.
The punishment for the rape of a a woman under twelve years of age (minors) includes imprisonment of not less than twenty years, but which may extend to imprisonment for life, which shall mean imprisonment for the remainder of that person’s natural life, and with fine or with death. The punishment for all types of gang rape include 20 years of imprisonment or life term.
For the first time, capital punishment has been introduced for the crime of mob lynching: "When a group of five or more persons acting in concert commits murder on the ground of race, caste or community, sex, place of birth, language, personal belief or any other ground each member of such group shall be punished with death or with imprisonment for life or imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than seven years, and shall also be liable to fine," the new provision states.
Changes under sedition:
The sedition law "has been repealed", said Union Home Minister Amit Shah. While the word "sedition" is not in the proposed law, it is replaced by Section 150 for acts endangering sovereignty, unity and integrity of India.
"Whoever, purposely or knowingly, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or by electronic communication or by use of financial means, or otherwise, excites or attempts to excite, secession or armed rebellion or subversive activities, or encourages feelings of separatist activities or endangers sovereignty or unity and integrity of India; or indulges in or commits any such act shall be punished with imprisonment for life or with imprisonment which may extend to seven years and shall also be liable to fine," it says.
The various offences have also been made gender neutral.
Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita (BNSS) Bill, 2023
The Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita, 2023 will replace the CrPC, to consolidate and amend the laws relating to Criminal Procedure. The Bill seeks to make the justice delivery system more efficient by detailing specific timelines within which an investigation has to be completed and providing access of FIRs to those citizens involved.
A copy of the FIR to the accused and victim: In any case where the proceeding has been instituted on a police report, the Magistrate shall without delay, and in no case beyond fourteen days from the date of production or appearance of the accused, furnish to the accused and the victim (if represented by an advocate) free of cost, a copy of the First Information Report, the provision states.
A formal provision for filing a zero first information report from any part of the country has also been introduced in the bill. A zero FIR lets any police station accept and register a complaint and then forward it to the pertinent station. The FIR has to be transferred within 15 days to the police station that has jurisdiction in the alleged crime.
Summary trial has been made mandatory for petty and less serious cases. The accused persons may be examined through electronic means, like video conferencing. The magisterial system has also been streamlined.
Bharatiya Sakshya (BS) Bill, 2023
The Indian Evidence Act of 1872 will be replaced by the Bharatiya Sakshya Bill, 2023. The main reason given for the repeal of the Evidence Act, 1872 is: “The existing law does not address the technological advancements in the country in the last few decades.”
The proposed legislation provides for admissibility of an electronic or digital record as evidence and it shall have the same legal effect, validity and enforceability as paper records.
It also seeks to expand the scope of secondary evidence to include copies made from original by mechanical processes, copies made from or compared with the original, counterparts of documents as against the parties who did not execute them and oral accounts of the contents of a document given by some person who has himself seen it.
The Home Minister also urged Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla to refer the three Bills for examination by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs.