From definition of terrorism to punishment for hit-and-run cases: Key highlights of 3 new criminal laws

Lok Sabha, New criminal laws
Image Source : PTI Union Home Minister Amit Shah speaks in the Lok Sabha during the Winter session of Parliament.

Amid the ongoing Winter Session of Parliament, the Lok Sabha on Wednesday passed three significant bills to replace the Indian Penal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure and Indian Evidence Act. Replying to the debate on the three bills, Union Home Minister Amit Shah the legislations are in consonance with the spirit of the Constitution. 

Here are three key bills passed by Lok Sabha: 

  • Bharatiya Nyaya (Second) Sanhita 2023
  • Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha (Second) Sanhita 2023
  • Bharatiya Sakshya (Second) Bill 2023

These bills will replace the Indian Penal Code-1860, the Code of Criminal Procedure Act-1898, and the Indian Evidence Act of 1872, respectively. Speaking in the House, Shah said the proposed laws were framed after comprehensive consultations and that he had gone through every comma and full stop of the draft legislations before bringing them before the House for approval.

Bharatiya Nyaya (Second) Sanhita 2023: Key points

  • It retains most offences from the IPC and adds community service as a form of punishment.
  • It adds terrorism as an offence.  It is defined as an act that intends to threaten the unity, integrity, security or economic security of the country, or strike terror in the people.
  • Organised crime has been added as an offence such as kidnapping, extortion and cyber-crime committed on behalf of a crime syndicate.  
  • The bill removes sedition as an offence. Instead, there is a new offence for acts jeopardising the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India. ‘Rajdroh’ has been changed as ‘deshdroh’
  • Murder by a group of five or more people (mob lynching) because of a certain identification identity, such as caste, language, or personal belief, is punishable by life in prison or death as well as a fine.
  • It is now mandatory for the victim of sexual assault to have their statement recorded on audio and video.
  • The maximum sentence for “Hit and Run” is ten years in jail. However, there will be less punishment if the culprit takes the victim to the hospital or police after the accident.
  • ‘Community service’ has been added as an alternative to imprisonment for a number of minor offences.
  • Provisions made for Zero FIR registration. The victim is not required to approach the jurisdictional police station; they may approach any police station. The FIR will be transferred to the jurisdictional police station within 24 hours.

Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha (Second) Sanhita 2023: Key points

  • The bill seeks to replace the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 (CrPC). 
  • Forensic investigation made mandatory for offences carrying a minimum sentence of seven years in prison.  Forensic specialists will visit crime scenes to collect forensic evidence and record the process.
  • The medical examination report of the victim of sexual harassment will be forwarded by the Medical Examiner to the investigating officer within 7 days.
  • A proclaimed offender may be tried and a verdict rendered in his absence if he has fled to avoid prosecution and there is no immediate chance that he will be apprehended. 
  • For an inquiry or legal procedure, finger impressions, voice samples, and specimen signatures or handwriting may be collected.  Samples may be taken from a person who has not been arrested.
  • The bill outlines new concepts like timelines for mercy petitions, a scheme for witness protection and permitting electronic modes for recording statements and collecting evidence.
  • The bill establishes strict deadlines for a number of procedural requirements: The police must present their challan before the court within seven days of the first hearing. The investigation must conclude within 90 days of filing a chargesheet. The judgments reserved are required to be pronounced within 30 days.

 Bharatiya Sakshya (Second) Bill 2023: Key points

  • The bill consists of 170 sections as opposed to the 167 sections in the previous Indian Evidence Act. Of these 167 sections, 23 sections have been modified, five removed, and one more section added.
  • It replaces the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 (IEA).  It retains most provisions of the IEA including those on confessions, relevancy of facts, and burden of proof.
  • The IEA provides for two kinds of evidence – documentary and oral.  Documentary evidence includes primary (original documents) and secondary (that proves the contents of the original).  The bill retains the distinction.  It classifies electronic records as documents.
  • All hearings, investigations, and trials may be conducted electronically.  Production of electronic communication devices will be permitted for a trial, investigation, or inquiry as they are likely to contain digital evidence.
  • Any admission made to a police officer is not admissible.  Unless certified by a magistrate, confessions made in police custody are also not admissible. However, if information obtained from an accused person in prison leads to the discovery of a fact, that information can be accepted provided it has a clear connection to the fact that was discovered. 
  • The bill brings provision for joint trials for multiple persons, where an accused has absconded or has not responded to an arrest warrant, will be treated as a joint trial.

(With inputs from agencies)

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