Former Supreme Court judge Madan B. Lokur spoke to Preetha Nair about his apprehensions about the five-member committee constituted to review criminal laws. Excerpts…
You have signed a joint petition questioning the transparency of the committee. What are your concerns?
The terms of reference of the committee are unclear. If the idea is to suggest amendments to the CrPC, the IPC and the Evidence Act, then the task could have been given over to the law commission. If the idea is to overhaul the criminal justice system, the time limit of six months is ridiculous. The composition of the committee leaves a lot to be desired. It lacks diversity in many, many respects.
The committee chairperson’s view is that reforms are overdue as these laws are colonial ones.
Reforms are certainly overdue, but reform for the sake of having them is hardly an answer.
Are you hopeful that this will bring desired reforms in the criminal justice system?
It is not possible to speculate what the committee will do and what the government will do with the recommendations of the committee.
One of the objectives of the committee is to reform ‘sentencing policy’. Do you think it’s achievable in a limited time frame of six months?
A time-limit of six months to bring about ‘principled sentencing’ and ‘simplifying procedures’ is quite ridiculous if the project is taken seriously. Otherwise, khichdi can be cooked in lesser time.
There are criticisms that the committee is silent on NSA and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), which is now frequently being invoked against dissenters.
It is difficult to answer this question without knowing what the committee is tasked to do. But it is quite obvious that an overhaul of the criminal justice system has many facets and it is not an easy task at all.
It also seeks suggestions on whether Section 124A dealing with sedition should be amended...
The law on sedition should be interpreted as the Supreme Court has interpreted it in the case of Kedar Nath Singh, not as it is being understood today. If the judgment of the Supreme Court is respected, there should be no problem at all.
Data shows that the number of undertrials in prisons is increasing and most of them belong to the disadvantaged sections of society. Is our criminal justice system biased against the weaker sections?
It would not be wholly correct to say that our criminal justice system is biased against the weaker sections. It is in some respects, but the application and interpretation of the laws certainly puts them at a great disadvantage.
Do you think police reforms are imperative while discussing criminal law reforms?
Undoubtedly. Police reforms and the criminal justice system go hand in hand in many respects.
The committee has also sought suggestions on whether statements made to a police officer under Section 161 of the CrPC can be made admissible as evidence. How problematic is this?
Very problematic. When it comes to the crunch, not many trust the police.