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India Revolutionizes Justice System: New Criminal Laws vs. the Old Guard

On July 1, 2024, India marked a pivotal moment in its justice system with the implementation of three new criminal laws: the Bhartiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS), Bhartiya Nagrik Suraksha Sanhita (BNSS), and Bhartiya Sakshya Adhiniyam (BSA)

These laws, passed in Parliament last December, replace the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), and the Indian Evidence Act, respectively.

Need for Change and New Framework

Union Home Minister Amit Shah emphasized that these new laws represent regulations crafted by Indians for Indians, reflecting a significant departure from colonial-era legislation. While some legal experts argue that the new laws don’t completely overhaul the existing ones, they introduce substantial updates to address contemporary issues.

Bhartiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS): Major Changes

Major Changes Introduced by Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita
Credit: LiveLaw

Replacing the IPC, the Bhartiya Nyaya Sanhita introduces several new crimes, including Clause 69, which penalizes sexual intercourse obtained through deceitful means with up to 10 years of imprisonment and a fine. This includes false promises of promotion, employment, or marriage by concealing one’s identity, among other deceitful tactics. While this has drawn praise, it has also faced criticism for potentially criminalizing consensual relationships.

Another notable change under Clause 103 is the recognition of murder motivated by caste, community, or race as a distinct offense, reflecting the increasing incidence of such crimes. The BNS also addresses organized crime and terrorism, drawing provisions from laws like the UAPA, and defining organized crime broadly to include activities like robbery, extortion, kidnapping, and cyber-crimes with severe consequences.

Clause 304(1) defines snatching as a separate offense from theft, although both carry the same penalty of up to three years in prison. Similarities between the BNS and IPC remain, such as the chapters on general exceptions, punishments, and the right to private defense.

Bhartiya Nagrik Suraksha Sanhita (BNSS): Procedural Innovations

Replacing the CrPC, the BNSS mandates forensic investigations for offenses punishable by seven years or more. Forensic experts will now be required to visit crime scenes to gather evidence. Additionally, all inquiries, proceedings, and trials will be conducted electronically, with electronic communication devices permitted during investigations and trials.

Bhartiya Sakshya Adhiniyam (BSA): Evidence Handling Reforms

The BSA, replacing the Indian Evidence Act, modernizes evidence processing by allowing electronic and digital records. This includes server logs, emails, device-stored files, location information, website content, and messages. Oral evidence recorded electronically is also admissible. To protect rape victims, the BSA mandates that their statements be recorded via audio-video means, enhancing transparency and protection.

The Impact

The introduction of the BNS, BNSS, and BSA on July 1, 2024, signifies a major update in India’s legal system. These new laws aim to address modern challenges by recognizing new crimes, mandating forensic investigations, and incorporating digital evidence. Despite mixed reactions, these changes represent a significant step forward in evolving India’s justice system.

Click here for read all three New Criminal Law

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