'Watershed moment': CJI Chandrachud hails new criminal laws : The Tribune India

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'Watershed moment': CJI Chandrachud hails new criminal laws

But cautions on need for robust court infrastructure

'Watershed moment': CJI Chandrachud hails new criminal laws

CJI DY Chandrachud with Union Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal. ANI

Tribune News Service

Satya Prakash

New Delhi, April 20

Hailing the newly enacted three criminal laws as a “watershed moment”, Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud on Saturday said these laws have transitioned India’s legal framework on criminal justice into the new age.

“These laws signify a watershed moment for our society because no law affects the day-to-day conduct of our society like the criminal law,” CJI Chandrachud said, addressing a conference on ‘India’s Progressive Path in the Administration of Criminal Justice System’ here.

Passed by Parliament in December 2023, the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita (BNSS) and Bharatiya Sakshya Adhiniyam will replace the Indian Penal Code, 1860, the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, and the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, respectively. The new criminal laws are to come into effect from July 1, 2024.

The CJI said the BNSS provided that criminal trials must be completed in three years and that a judgment must be pronounced within 45 days of it being reserved. “This stipulation is a breath of fresh air for addressing the issue of case pendency as well as the rights of the victim and the accused in a criminal case.” He, however, cautioned that if the court infrastructure and the prosecution lacked material resources to harness technology and conduct an efficient and speedy trial, then the guarantees of the BNSS might run the risk of becoming merely directory and un-implementable.

Noting that our laws and their implementation was an ever-evolving area and there was no finality to any law or the manner of its implementation, the CJI said, “We must be willing to embrace positive changes to meet the needs of our times. I expect that with the implementation of the new criminal laws, we will discover loopholes and areas which need to be addressed. Such debates would be helpful in enhancing the efficiency of our criminal justice systems.”

However, the ideological framework at the heart of “our analysis must be justice oriented with a civil liberty-centric approach which balances the interests of the victim and the accused”, the CJI said. Highlighting that the BNSS encompassed a holistic approach to deal with crimes in the digital age, Justice Chandrachud said, “It was, therefore, very heartening to notice that Section 532 of the BNSS allows for all trials, inquiries and proceedings under the Code to be conducted electronically.”

Maintaining that victims of crimes often felt as if their agency over their own decisions was lost by the commission of a crime, he said much-needed improvements had been introduced to protect victim interests and to carry out the investigation and prosecution of offences efficiently.

“Our laws must aim to give victims a sense of agency and control in the criminal process as well as a sense of justice. We must continuously introspect and protect the privacy of the accused as well as the victim when dealing with digitisation of proceedings and creating digital evidence,” the CJI said. He also hailed the citizen-centric approaches adopted for supply of a copy of the FIR to victims and to inform them about the progress of investigation, including by digital means.

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