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Indian government introduces bills to overhaul criminal laws: Indian Penal Code, CrPC, and Indian Evidence Act

The three bills have been sent to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs for further examination and recommendations.

India’s Ministry of Home Affairs on August 10 introduced three new bills in the Lok Sabha (lower house of the parliament) to overhaul the criminal laws of the country:

  1. Indian Penal Code (IPC) of 1860 to be replaced by Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, 2023 [PDF]
  2. Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) of 1973 to be replaced by Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita, 2023 [PDF]
  3. Indian Evidence Act of 1872 to be replaced by Bharatiya Sakshya Bill, 2023 [PDF]

The colonial-era IPC has been the bedrock of the criminal justice system of the country for 163 years now.

The three bills have been sent to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs for further examination and recommendations. This committee is headed by BJP MP Brijlal and consists of 30 members in total, including sixteen members from BJP and four members from Congress.

What to look out for: While we are yet to go through the bills (as no public consultations were held on them and they were introduced in the parliament in a surprise last-minute move), from our initial reading and from commentary online, here’s what to look out for on the digital front of things:

  • Seizure of laptops, phones, and other electronic evidence: The replacement for CrPC will explicitly allow the seizure of electronic communication devices such as phones and laptops and other digital evidence when carrying out investigations. The current law does not include the words “electronic” and “digital” because of which there is uncertainty as to what exactly is allowed to be seized and what isn’t and the procedure to follow when seizing electronic evidence.
  • Electronic evidence in courts: The Indian Evidence Act replacement will allow electronic and digital records such as emails, server logs, messages, etc. as evidence in courts with the same legal effect as paper records. This too is not clearly spelled out in the current version, resulting in arbitrariness in the process of collection and presentation of such evidence in courts.  You can read more about the issues around the seizure of personal devices and presentations of electronic devices here and here.
  • Digitisation: The news laws will require digitization of the complete process starting from registration of FIR (e-FIR) to filing of charge sheet to delivery of judgment. The bills will also permit the appearance of witnesses, accused, experts, and victims through electronic means. To enable these, all courts will need to be computerised by 2027.
  • Impact on existing cases: If the new bills go into effect, it can impact the countless existing cases pending in front of courts across the country. It will also require retraining of the police force and judicial system to understand the provisions under the new laws.

For a summary of Home Minister Amit Shah’s remarks when introducing these bills, check out the following thread by Maadhyam or the round-up by Live Law:

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