"I think that the enactment of three new criminal laws by the Parliament is a watershed moment for our society, a clear indicator that India is changing."  

This is the opinion of Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud. He had expressed his opinion while addressing a conference on 'India's progressive path in the administration of the criminal justice system', in Delhi on April 20,2024.

Indeed, for years the Indian Penal Code (IPC), Indian Evidence Act and Code of Criminal Procedure have cast a shadow over India’s legal system. 

While these laws have been the foundation of Indian justice system, law makers had struggled to address the complexities of modern India. 

A new era has dawned as India has taken revolutionary steps towards evolution in the field of law with introduction of three new criminal laws, thanks to the Narendra Modi government.

Officially, the move originated in 2020 when the Committee for Reforms in Criminal Laws (CRCL) was established, and chaired by Prof (Dr.) Ranbir Singh. 

The transformative bills, named as Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS), Bharatiya Sakshya Adhiniyam (BSA) and Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita (BNSS) promise to bring about a rebirth by replacing these outdated and erstwhile statutes with new legal frameworks that are specifically designed for the needs of 21 st century India. 

Throughout India’s history, the development of its criminal justice system can be traced across multiple periods including the Vedic age, Delhi Sultanate, Mughal Empire era and up to the present stage of the Narendra Modi regime of Parliamentary Democracy. 

During the Vedic era, principles rooted in Rig Vedic teachings played a role in determining punishments and maintaining order under the guidance of Dharma. 

Subsequently during the Delhi Sultanate Era, there was an evolution influenced by sources like Smriti and the implementation of Shariat law during that era. 

During the time of the Mughal Empire, the Mughals created the Mahakuma e Adalat, a department responsible, for dealing with both criminal and civil cases under Islamic law. However, there were multiple challenges that came with this system. 

These challenges included the absence of a distinction between the judiciary and the executive branches, inconsistencies, in the application of criminal laws and instances of corruption. 

During the Colonial period there was a paradigm shift. The East India Company (EIC) played a key role, in shaping this transformation alongside the introduction of court systems and the establishment of the High Court. These developments set the foundation, for the enactment of codes in the 1860s. 

These bills have been revised based on recommendations, from the Standing Committee and had been approved by both houses of Parliament. Hon’ble President gave her assent on December 25th, 2023. 

The need for reforms and changes in legislation was  the realization that the existing laws are outdated remnants of the colonial era reflecting a criminal justice system that aimed to oppress rather than serve justice. Many sections of the old laws have become irrelevant and obsolete requiring an overhaul. 

In brief, detailed overview of the New Criminal Laws Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, 2023 New criminal law Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita of 2023 is an endeavour to redefine and redirect the code and has replaced the erstwhile Indian Penal Code, 1860. 

Through amending, repealing and adding sections this new law aims to take a nuanced approach towards offenses by imposing penalties on actions that pose a threat to the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India. 

Additionally, it tackles challenges like terrorism, organized crime, by differentiating between serious and minor offenses and imposing strict punishments for serious offenses. 

The idea of ‘Community Service’, as a penalty for crimes is now being implemented under the law focusing on a more rehabilitative approach to justice. 

The new legislation has added “snatching” as an offense, under Section 304 of the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita. 

The Bharatiya Nagrik Suraksha Sanhita, 2023 and  the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita, 2023 aims to refine our Criminal procedure system. By setting timelines for investigations it intends to ensure that justice is more accessible and responsive to the needs of the people. 

In this new criminal law one notable change can be seen in Section 176 of the Act, which mandates investigation for crimes carrying a punishment of seven (7) years imprisonment or more. 

This means that appointed experts will be involved in conducting on site investigations. 

Additionally, Section 173 of the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita embraces the new digital age by allowing digital methods for trials, inquiries and proceedings. 

This shift toward documentation and proceedings aligns with advancements in technology and helps streamline legal processes. One revolutionary concept is the implementation of Zero FIRs. 

According to Section 173 of the Act, individuals have the right to file a First Information Report (FIR) at any police station, for a cognizable offense regardless of its jurisdiction. 

It states that the FIR must be transferred to the police station, for handling crimes committed in that particular area within a span of 15 days. Crime and Criminal tracking system will be used for benefit of the public. 

Bharatiya Sakshya Adhiniyam, 2023 The Bharatiya Sakshya Adhiniyam has replaced the Indian Evidence Act of 1872 resulting in alterations to the structure of Evidence Law. 

In today’s environment, where technology holds great importance, this new criminal law acknowledges electronic evidence, as any information produced or transmitted by a device or system that can store or recover data. 

Section 57 of the Bharatiya Sakshya Adhiniyam emphasizes the recognition of electronic records as primary evidence. 

Moreover, the Act includes provisions that enable the electronic presentation of even oral evidence. 

This advancement makes it possible for witnesses to testify remotely ensuring that digital records hold the same significance as traditional paper documents. 

Section 24 of the Act, expands on the idea of joint trials. 

Comparison of Old vs New Criminal Laws 

The philosophy of old criminal laws was to provide punitive and retributive justice.

The new laws are Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, Bharatiya Nagrik Suraksha and Bharatiya Sakshya Adhiniyam.

The philosophy is to provide restorative justice focused on rehabilitation and victim centric. 

The old laws were based on Ideology Developed by Britishers under British oversight and ideology

The new criminal laws are Built for the Modern India, with focus on ever dynamic legal landscape. 

The old laws had fixed punishments and penalties specified for various kinds of crimes.

In the new laws there are provisions for fixed punishments as well as restorative justice provisions like imposition of community service or rehabilitation. 

Admissibility of Evidence

The acts provided strict and rigid rules for testimonies of witness and sometimes relied upon unreliable circumstantial evidence. 

Electronic evidence had limited admissibility. Scope of admissibility was expanded to take into account digital evidence and records and to strengthen investigations. 

Trial Procedures Tiring, cumbersome and lengthy procedures due to which people faced delays and backlogs in courts.

Aimed at expediting the trial process by implementing time limit and leverage technology to enhance efficiency.

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