Reforming Criminal Justice System – UPSC GS2

Context: Aiming to make comprehensive changes in criminal laws, the government has initiated the process of amendment to laws such as the Indian Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure and the Indian Evidence Act in consultation with all stakeholders.
Criminal Justice System:
  • The Criminal Justice System refers to the agencies of government charged with enforcing the law, adjudicating crime, and correcting criminal conduct.
  • The legal framework for Criminal Jurisprudence in India includes the Indian Penal Code and Code of Criminal Procedure.
  • NCRB: About 1.9 lac murder cases were brought to trial in the year 2012 (including previous cases) but trials were completed only in 21,653 cases
Concerns/challenges in India’s criminal justice system:
  • Large number of pending cases:
    • There are more than 4 crore cases pending before the judiciary including the Supreme Court, High Courts and district courts.
    • The large pendency is contributing to a large number of undertrial prisoners which is consequently leading to human rights violations of the undertrials and convicts.
  • Inaccessibility of justice:
    • The inordinate emphasis on institution-building rather than capacity building of the judiciary has led to a situation where the justice mechanisms have become inaccessible to the poor and marginalised classes of citizens.
  • Police excesses:
    • The abuse of power by the police remains a major concern.
    • There are several Supreme Court and high court cases that have revealed how investigations were pursued in order to frame innocent persons or subject them to harassment.
  • Excessive stress on crime prevention:
    • The Indian criminal system sets itself the utopian goal of achieving a hundred per cent rate of success in crime prevention. This is an unattainable ideal.
    • Initiatives such as community policing mechanisms and situational crime prevention have been ineffective. Also, the excessive stress on crime control seems to be promoting the abuse of power by the police.
  • Continued reliance on custodial punishments:
    • Despite several research studies showing that punishment has little impact on lowering crime rates, custodial punishment remains the main aspect of the criminal justice system in India. This is leading to the problem of overcrowding of prisons.
    • Diversionary principles in the treatment of offenders are yet to materialise despite several Law Commissions and committees having recommended non-custodial measures of punishment of offenders.
  • Lack of data:
    • There continues to be a lack of reliable state-sponsored data collection, maintenance and analysis mechanisms that can help in evidence-based policymaking in the realm of criminal justice reforms.
Reforms needed in Indian Criminal Justice System:
    • The Penal code should be modified to incorporate the present day societal, economic, and other changes.
    • The Penal code can be divided into various codes incorporating
      • social offences,
      • correctional offences,
      • economic offences and
      • a Indian penal code (which will deal with cases that warrant 10 years punishment or more).
    • The other categories can be settled through administrative procedures, minimum police intervention, plea bargaining (if required)
    • Institutional reform including proper investigation of crimes, rationalisation of court systems by inducting technology, limiting appeal procedures to a minimum.
    • The system should be victim centric to ensure that the victims get justice. The victim should get a chance to put forth his case and quick completion of trials is needed to ensure that they do not lose faith in the system.
    • Fixing responsibility quickly and transparently will maximize the sense of justice to the victim.
    • Reforming the property based bail system, provision of proper legal support to remove problem of under trials, improvement of prison conditions is needed.
    • Addressing the problem of Under-staffing in Indian Judiciary ( 32% shortfall in High court Judges, 21% in district court judges)
    • Creation of All India Judicial Services for transparent appointments in Higher Judiciary.
    • Free legal aid (Art 39A) to be included in Fundamental rights.
    • Innovative measures like Lok Adalats shall sit more frequently, and recently debated National Court of Appeal to be conceived as soon as possible.
    • LOK ADALATS for swift disposal of petty crimes, under trials, etc.
    • Jury service for citizens and the elderly for speedier resolution
    • Promote alternative dispute resolution methods like arbitration, mediation, reconciliation and favour restorative justice with victim-centric approach
    • Limit time allowed on arguments made in court like in USA.
    • Sector specific tribunals can be set up only with restricted appellate in high courts or Supreme court.
    • Evolve suitable guidelines on special leave petitions.
Thus, India needs to reform its archaic system to incorporate more efficient practices like restorative justice, plea bargaining, etc. that will ensure a more robust criminal justice system.
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