Criminal Justice System Reforms and Challenges

Published On: 5th August, 2023

Authored By: Mohd Saddam Mujeeb
Chaudhary Charan Singh University, Meerut, Uttar Pradesh.

Criminal Justice System Reforms and Challenges in India

INTRODUCTION

The Indian criminal justice system plays a pivotal role in upholding the rule of law and ensuring a fair and just society. Over the years, significant efforts have been made to reform the system, addressing its inefficiencies and inadequacies. These reforms have aimed to enhance the protection of citizens’ rights, expedite trials, and improve the overall effectiveness of the system. However, despite these endeavours, the criminal justice system in India still grapples with several persistent challenges. This article will explore the key reforms that have been implemented and analyse the ongoing challenges faced by the Indian criminal justice system.

The criminal justice system in India has undergone significant reforms in recent years to address its shortcomings and enhance its efficacy. These reforms aim to provide timely justice, protect the rights of citizens, and instil public confidence in the system. Despite these efforts, the system faces persistent challenges that impede its effectiveness. This article will delve into the key reforms and challenges faced by the Indian criminal justice system.

I. CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM REFORMS IN INDIA

a) Legal Framework Reforms

India has witnessed substantial legal reforms to improve the criminal justice system’s efficacy. One of the landmark reforms was the enactment of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, which addressed crimes against women, enhancing the punishment for sexual offenses and ensuring the protection of victims (The Gazette of India, 2013).

b) Fast Track Courts

To tackle the issue of backlog, the establishment of fast-track courts has been a significant reform. These courts prioritize cases of heinous crimes and those involving vulnerable sections of society, expediting the trial process, and promoting timely justice delivery (The Indian Express, 2020).

c) Evidentiary Reforms

Modernizing the evidence-gathering process has been crucial in enhancing the efficiency of trials. The acceptance of electronic evidence and the introduction of video conferencing for witness testimony have streamlined the trial proceedings (The Times of India, 2017).

d) Victim Compensation

Recognizing the hardships faced by crime victims, several states in India have introduced victim compensation schemes. These schemes aim to provide financial support and assistance to victims and their families, helping them cope with the aftermath of the crime (National Legal Services Authority, n.d.).

e) Police Reforms

In India, calls for police reforms have long been heard. Efforts have been made to create independent police complaints authorities and enhance police accountability through better training and transparency (The Hindu, 2019).

II. CHALLENGES IN THE INDIAN CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM

a) Backlog of Cases

Despite the establishment of fast-track courts, the Indian criminal justice system continues to struggle with a massive backlog of cases. This leads to delayed justice, causing frustration and a loss of faith in the system (Business Standard, 2021).

b) Overcrowded Prisons

Overcrowded prisons are a persistent challenge in India. The slow pace of trials, coupled with high rates of pre-trial detention, contributes to overcrowding, leading to poor living conditions and human rights violations (Al Jazeera, 2018).

c) Torture and Custodial Deaths

Instances of custodial torture and deaths remain a blot on the criminal justice system, eroding public trust and challenging its credibility (The Wire, 2021).

d) Inadequate Legal Aid

Many indigent individuals, especially from marginalized sections of society, lack access to competent legal representation. This creates an imbalance in the justice system and perpetuates social inequalities (The Indian Express, 2020).

e) Witness Protection

The absence of a robust witness protection program leaves witnesses vulnerable to intimidation, hindering the trial process and undermining justice (NDTV, 2019).

f) Corruption

Corruption within the criminal justice system is a significant impediment to fair and efficient trials. It compromises the integrity of investigations and compromises the delivery of justice (The Times of India, 2021).

g) Outdated Laws

Outdated laws fail to address the complexities of modern crimes, creating loopholes that can be exploited by criminals (India Today, 2022).

RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE MALIMATH COMMITTEE

The committee made various recommendations on criminal law and the criminal justice system. Following are a few of its recommendations:

  1. It proposed converting the adversarial criminal justice system into an inquisitorial one in order to hasten trials and address the problem of open cases.
  2. It recommended the right to silence for the accused against self-harming statements under Article 20(3) of the Constitution.
  3. It is felt that the presumption of innocence of an accused puts an extraordinary and unreasonable burden on the prosecution to prove the charges, which leads to a delay in justice.
  4. The committee made recommendations for compensation to the victim.
  5. It also made suggestions to reform the police system in the country and make it accountable and transparent.
  6. It stressed the appointment of public prosecutors through competitive exams.
  7. It suggested that every higher court must have judges specialising in criminal law.
  8. It was suggested that the offenses be reclassified as socioeconomic offenses, crimes under the penal code, etc.
  9. A Presidential Commission must be established in order to inspect the criminal justice system at regular intervals.

RANBIR SINGH: REFORMS WERE LONG OVERDUE

Professor Ranbir Singh, Chairperson, Committee for Reforms in Criminal Laws.

The Union Home Ministry’s Committee for Reforms in Criminal Laws, which was established in May, has received its fair share of criticism from a variety of sources. The five-person, all-male group is led by Professor Ranbir Singh, founding vice chancellor of the National Law University, Delhi. Professor Ranbir Singh believes that being an academic would not be a restriction and that the committee will investigate all aspects of criminal law reform based on the broadest possible consultation. He has extensive teaching and administrative experience and was also the founding vice chancellor of NALSAR, the University of Law, and Hyderabad. By October, the committee is supposed to deliver its report. A portion of Professor Ranbir Singh’s Frontline interview, as quoted below:

The IPC [Indian Penal Code] is almost 160 years old and not any major effort was made to investigate the whole gamut of criminal law reforms. Certain countries like Singapore and England investigated this, but it was long back, some 15 years ago. The Malimath Committee in India made some excellent proposals, but due to its limited mission, it was unable to consider all possible criminal law reform options. The Indian Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure, the Indian Evidence Act, and the Narcotics Act are all under investigation by this committee. Our mission is very broad. I think the government came up with a great concept. These reforms were overdue, and we should definitely take a serious look at what has to be done, which is what we are currently doing.

What are the primary goals of the committee that the Home Ministry formed and that you are leading?

The IPC [Indian Penal Code] is almost 160 years old and not any major effort was made to investigate the whole gamut of criminal law reforms. Certain countries like Singapore and England investigated this, but it was long back, some 15 years ago. The Malimath Committee in India made some excellent proposals, but due to its limited mission, it was unable to consider all possible criminal law reform options. The Indian Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure, the Indian Evidence Act, and the Narcotics Act are all under investigation by this committee. Our mission is very broad. I think the government came up with a great concept. These reforms were long overdue and probably we need to seriously investigate what is required and this is what we are doing.

CONCLUSION

The Indian criminal justice system has witnessed several reforms to address its deficiencies and promote a fair and efficient system. However, the challenges of backlog, prison overcrowding, torture, inadequate legal aid, witness protection, corruption, and outdated laws continue to pose significant obstacles to its effectiveness. Addressing these challenges necessitates sustained efforts and comprehensive reforms. It is imperative for all stakeholders, including the government, legal professionals, and civil society, to work together to create a robust criminal justice system that upholds the principles of justice and protects the rights of all citizens.

With the advancement of time and technology, new crimes like organised crimes, white-collar crimes, cybercrimes, etc. are rising, and the government believes that the judicial system needs to be changed to address these offenses. As a result of this, various committees set up by the government gave various suggestions and recommendations. But still, the condition has not improved. Due to the backlog of cases that come from the lack of judges, courts are still under strain. It is perceived by the public that the police force is under the influence of politicians, and corruption has made them ineffective in fulfilling their duties.

Every day, there are more rapes committed in prison and fatalities. This causes the general public to become fearful. Prisons are overcrowded, and prisoners are treated cruelly and inhumanely. Despite being on paper, the committee’s recommendations have not been fully carried out. In order to deliver fair justice, it is necessary to address all the problems and fill all the holes in the Indian criminal justice system.

REFERENCES

  • The Gazette of India. (2013). Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013. Retrieved from http://egazette.nic.in/WriteReadData/2013/E_12_2013_484.pdf
  • The Indian Express. (2020). Fast track courts: Lessons from Delhi. Retrieved from https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/fast-track-courts-delhi-rape-case-6221902/
  • The Times of India. (2017). Video conferencing for court hearings may be implemented soon. Retrieved from https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/video-conferencing-for-court-hearings-may-be-implemented-soon/articleshow/58610567.cms
  • National Legal Services Authority. (n.d.). Victim Compensation Scheme. Retrieved from http://nalsa.gov.in/victim-compensation-scheme
  • The Hindu. (2019). Police Reforms – The long road ahead. Retrieved from https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/police-reforms-the-long-road-ahead/article27085635.ece
  • Business Standard. (2021). Over 3.7 crore cases pending in Indian courts, pendency of cases reduced by 7.1% since June 2020. Retrieved from https://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/over-3-7-crore-cases-pending-in-indian-courts-pendency-of-cases-reduced-by-7-1-since-june-2020-121030100362_1.html
  • Al Jazeera. (2018). India’s Overcrowded Prisons. Retrieved from https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/10/29/indias-overcrowded-prisons-explained
  • The Wire. (2021). India Saw 1,731 Custodial Deaths in 2019, NCRB Data Shows. Retrieved from https://thewire.in/rights/india-saw-1731-custodial-deaths-in-2019-ncrb-data-shows
  • (2019). A year after Supreme Court verdict, witness protection program yet to take off. Retrieved from https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/a-year-after-supreme-court-verdict-witness-protection-program-yet-to-take-off-2160310
  • The Times of India. (2021). Conviction rate in India is only 27.2%, says NCRB data. Retrieved from https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/conviction-rate-in-india-is-only-27-2-says-ncrb-data/articleshow/84960750.cms
  • India Today. (2022). Outdated laws hamper effective legal action against organised crime. Retrieved from https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/outdated-laws-hamper-effective-legal-action-against-organised-crime-1950363-2022-07-05

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