Reforms in Criminal Justice System

The Criminal Justice System is a system comprising of various organisations/institutions that are involved in the procedure of bringing a crime to justice. Majorly there are three components of the system vis – a – vis Police, Judiciary, and Prisons which all work in synergy to ensure the proper delivery of Justice.

In the history of independent India, various reports have been published/suggested for reforming the justice system. Various reports of the Law Commission of India and of dedicated committees formed, have submitted their reports for the betterment of the ageing and inefficient criminal justice system. In this article, we’ll explain to you the reports of the Justice V.S. Malimath Committee and the Madhav Menon Committee.

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Note: Visit the attached link to understand the Criminal Justice System of India in a simplified yet detailed manner.

Need for Reforms

There are many reasons to overhaul the current criminal justice system, this is admitted by the Union Government of India itself. The major reasons are listed below:

  • Complex Process: The process is so cumbersome and complex that it is very difficult for common men to understand it. Keeping a large section of society unaware of the justice system makes way for the misuse of the innocence of the people and complexity of the system by law practitioners and police.
  • Colonial Foundation: The laws have not undergone any major changes since India gained its independence.
  • Delayed Delivery of Justice: Indian judiciary is overburdened with huge piles of pending cases.
  • Status of Undertrials: More than 63% of accused are undertrials in Indian prisons.
  • Corruption: Lack of transparency, at all levels but especially at lower levels, compromises with the justice delivery.
  • No Fixed Accountability: Police officials in India are not provided with enough freedom to take up the matter and investigate when the cases are high profile, in such scenarios, they are required to function at the will of the political class.

V.S. Malimath Committee on Reforms in the Criminal Justice System

Justice V.S. Malimath had been the chief justice of Kerala and Karnataka high court and was the head of this 6 member committee which was constituted in the year 2000 and submitted its reports three years later in the year of 2003. The Malimath committee made 158 crucial suggestions, but none of them were accepted and implemented. Below are the most prominent recommendations made by the Malimath Committee:

  • Police: The committee suggested separating the investigation wing of the police from its Law & Order Wing. Apart from that it also recommended:
    • Creation of National Security Commission, and State Security Commissions.
    • For maintenance of crime data, appointing additional SP in each district was suggested.
    • Organise Specialised Squads for dealing with organised crimes.
    • Creating a Police Establishment Board for matters related to postings and transfers, etc.
    • For probing inter-State or transnational crimes, a special team of officers must be constituted.
    • Increasing the police custody period from current 15 days to 30 days and an additional period of 9 days for filing of charge sheet in cases of serious crimes.
  • Investigative Practices: It felt the need of borrowing certain features of investigative procedures followed in countries such as Germany, and France. The judicial magistrate should be responsible to supervise the whole investigation and the courts should be granted the powers to summon anyone for examination if required, even if he/she is not listed in the witness list.
  • Right to Silence: The Article 20 (3) of the Indian Constitution should be amended in such a way as to allow the courts to infringe on this right of the accused and make him/her provide information which could go against himself/herself.
  • Rights of the Accused: A charter should be launched in all the languages so as to make the people aware of their rights and know the steps to make them get enforced and whom to approach if it doesn’t get enforced in the way it should have been.
  • Innocence Until Proven Guilty: the practice of presuming the accused to be innocent and unreasonably burdening the prosecution to prove otherwise should be done away with. Instead, a fact should be considered as proven if the court is so convinced subject to its complete evaluation of all the matters in front of it.
  • Rights of the Victims: It made detailed suggestions to provide justice to the victim, some of them are:
    • In all the cases of serious crimes, the victim should be allowed to take part in.
    • If the victim is dead, his/her legal representative should have the right to take part in the investigation of such a case.
    • In case the victim can’t afford it, he/she should be provided an option of choosing a lawyer of his/her choice by the state and the cost involved must also be borne by the state itself.
    • The compensation to the victim in all serious crimes, is the responsibility and an obligation on part of the state, irrespective of the fact of whether the accused is apprehended or not, convicted or acquitted.
    • It also suggested creating a victim compensation fund, which could be funded with the money received after auctioning the items confiscated in the organised crimes.
  • Dying Declarations: it suggested the law to authorise the audio/video recorded statements, confessions, and dying declarations.
  • Public Prosecution: the creation of a new post of Director of Prosecution in each state who will ensure effective coordination between the prosecution wing and the investigation wing of the police, using the guidance of the Advocate General of that state. It is also recommended to appoint the public prosecutors and assistant public prosecutors by means of a competitive exam instead of departmental promotions. These appointees shouldn’t be posted in their home districts or where they are already practising.
  • Judges and Courts: The committee suggested increasing the number of judges in Indian Courts. It also suggested separating the division of criminal proceedings from the ordinary ones in High Courts and the Supreme Court, and allotting such cases to only those judges who have a proven experience and expertise in criminal laws. It also suggested the creation of a National Judicial Commission.
  • Witness Protection: The witness should be treated with dignity; be provided with allowance on the same day; be provided with proper seating and resting facilities. A Witness protection law must be made on the lines of one that is in the USA.
  • Perjury: The witness must be fined and/or imprisoned and be tried if he/she is found to be providing false information so as to influence the natural course of the case.
  • Court Vacations: Considering the number of pending cases before the court, the committee suggested reducing the vacation period of the courts by 21 days.
  • Arrears Eradication Scheme: Under this scheme, the cases which are pending for more than 2 years are to be settled by the Lok Adalats on priority. Such cases will be heard daily and no adjournment is allowed.
  • Verdicts: 
    • Creation of permanent statutory permanent committee for suggesting sentencing guidelines.
    • House arrest instead of prison sentence for pregnant ladies and women who have a child less than the age of 7 years, considering the child’s future and wellbeing.
    • Settlement without any trial in cases where the interest of the society is absent. In case he/she cannot afford to pay a fine, some form of community service could be arranged for the convict.
    • Life imprisonment to replace a death sentence without the scope for commutation or remission.
    • Update Indian Penal Code (IPC) for adding or removing crimes as per the changing times.
  • Reclassify Offences: instead of the current system of categorising into cognisable and non-cognisable offences, the committee recommended below 5 categories:
    • Economic Code
    • Criminal Code
    • Correctional Code
    • Social Welfare Code
    • Other Offences Code
  • Periodic Review: The criminal justice system of India should be reviewed periodically by a committee constituted by the President of India.

Note: Visit the attached link to read about the Malimath Committee report from IAS Prelims point of view.

Madhav Menon Committee on Reforms in the Criminal Justice System

N.R. Madhav Menon was the head of the 4 member committee entrusted to draft the “Draft National Policy on Criminal Justice”. The committee submitted its report in the year of 2007, advocating a complete overhaul of the whole criminal justice system of India. The draft contained some provisions that are recommended by the V.S. Malimath Committee as well in 2003, like re-categorisation of offences within IPC; creation of National Security Commission, and matters related to rights of the victims among others.

The re-classification of offences as per this report should be on the basis of the following criteria:

  1. Social Welfare Offences Code: Punishment should not be the focus here, rather reparation and/or restitution be.
  2. Correctional Offences Code: Involving crimes that have the provision of imprisonment of up to 3 years and/or fines.
  3. Grave Offences Code: Involving crimes that have the provision of imprisonment of beyond 3 years and/or death.
  4. Economic Offences Code: For crimes that are related to economic security and other financial laws.

All the above 4 categories will contain the detailed nature of trial, rules of procedure, and types of punishments.

The committee also suggested for the creation of a victim compensation fund for those who turned out hostile due to the pressure from the culprits.

SC Judgement on Police Reforms

The Supreme Court of India in the year 2006, in the Prakash Singh v/s the Union of India case, gave 7 directives to all the States and Union Territories for carrying out police reforms. The major aim of the directives was to free the police system from the unwarranted interference and pressure from the political rulers and do their duty with full self-accountability. The Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed by a retired DGP (Director General of Police) having served in UP Police and Assam Police in the year 1996 seeking police reforms. 

The case took a decade to conclude into what is considered as to be one of the most important judgments ever given by the Supreme Court after the Kesavananda Bharati case of 1973.

Following were the 7 Directives for Police Reforms propounded by the Supreme Court in 2006:

  1. Create a State Security Commission (SSC) for ensuring no unwarranted pressure or interference is exercised on the police by the respective state government. The SSC will also be responsible for evaluation of the performance of the state police and to institute broad policy guidelines.
  2. The DGP must have a minimum tenure of 2 years and should be appointed via a transparent merit based process.
  3. Superintendents of Police (SP) of a district, the Station House Officers (SHOs) of each police station and other police officials on operational duty must also have a minimum 2 years of tenure.
  4. Hive off the prosecution, investigation, law and order, and other functions of the police.
  5. Setup Police Establishment Board (PEB) for:
    • Giving decisions on the matters related to police officials below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), such as transfers, postings, promotions among other service-related matters.
    • For police officers above the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), recommend upon the matters such as postings, and transfers.
  6. Create Police Complaints Authority (PCA) at:
    • State Level: To enquire into and deal with public complaints against officers above the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) including the DSP itself, in matters of serious misconduct such as rape in police custody, grievous hurt, custodial death, etc.
    • District level: With the same provisions and powers as above but for the police personnel who are below the Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) rank.
  7. For the purpose of selection and placement of Chiefs of CPOs (Central Police Organisations) with a minimum tenure of 2 years, create a National Security Commission (NSC) for constituting a panel for the said purpose.

Implementation Status of SC Directives

As per a study report published by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), not even a single State /Union Territory in India has completely adhered to the above directives. Some have implemented a few among those in a manner so as to make the implementation useless and just for the namesake. It found that 18 states have passed the amendments to their respective Police Acts in pursuance of these directives. By and large, the Police is still under the control and influence of the State Governments and this hampers the overall criminal justice system as the officials feel hesitant to even file the cases, let alone investigate it honestly and ensure the delivery of justice.

It is important to understand that it is the action of the police which marks the beginning of the long process of justice delivery, an inaction on its part or an action under the undue influence of State Governments simply means denial of justice. The judges of already overburdened courts have limited capacity to take suo moto cases and oversee the investigations done by the police.

Recent Developments

  • Union Home Minister Mr. Amit Shah has sought suggestions to make the criminal laws of India more people-centric. The suggestions have been primarily sought by the Chief Justice of India (CJI), Chief Ministers (CMs), and Members of Parliament (MPs) among others.
  • In his statement, Mr. Amit Shah hinted that the days of third degree tortures will soon be over.
  • The government is keen to make changes in the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), and the Indian Evidence Act.
  • At a recent meeting of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) core group, experts have expressed their serious concerns on the sluggish speed of reforms being made in the Criminal Justice System of India.

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