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Lynching, Marital Rape, Sedition: Criminal Law Reforms on Way?

MHA Committee on Criminal Law Reforms asks experts for views on whether the law on these issues needs to change.

Updated
India
3 min read
Ministry of Home Affairs. Image used for representation.
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The Committee for Reforms in Criminal Law, set up by the Ministry of Home Affairs in 2019, has opened consultations on some of its mooted reforms, including amending the law on sedition, and whether sexual offences should be gender-neutral.

The Committee has invited recommendations from experts on criminal law over the next three months, on required reforms for India's criminal procedure law, evidence law and substantive criminal law (essentially the Indian Penal Code).

As per the website, the access to the questionnaire for expert consultation shall be enabled on Saturday, 4 July. A questionnaire with 49 issues on which the Committee is inviting suggestions was made available for experts who register with the Committee on Saturday evening, dealing primarily with substantive law issues.

The Committee aims to “recommend reforms in the criminal laws of the country in a principled, effective, and efficient manner which ensures the safety and security of the individual, the community and the nation; and which prioritises the constitutional values of justice, dignity and the inherent worth of the individual.”

The committee is headed by Prof (Dr) Ranbir Singh who is the founder Vice-Chancellor of National Law University Delhi and its members include Mahesh Jethmalani, senior advocate practicing in the Supreme Court of India.

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AMENDMENTS TO IPC?

On the substantive criminal law side, the Committee will be undertaking a review of offences under the IPC, removing redundant provisions, improving existing definitions, and bringing the law in line with judicial decisions.

Some of the issues which experts are being asked to look at in relation to this include:

  • Should the definition, scope and cognizability of sedition under Section 124A of the IPC be changed?
  • Should “insults to the National Flag, Emblems and Constitution of India” be offences under the IPC?
  • Should ‘mob lynching’ and ‘honour killing’ be penalised as separate offences under the IPC?
  • Should sexual offences be categorised differently from other offences against the human body? Should these be made gender-neutral?
  • Does the standard of consent under Section 375 of the IPC (definition of rape) need to be changed? Should the exception for marital rape be removed?
  • Should there be an exception to the legal doctrine of ‘ignorance of the law is no excuse’?
  • Should voluntary intoxication be an aggravating factor during sentencing? (Currently involuntary intoxication is a defence against criminal responsibility.)

In terms of bringing the law in line with decisions of the courts, the Committee is also seeking expert recommendations on decriminalising euthanasia, offences relating to miscarriages and including new provisions on ‘corporate homicide’.

PROCEDURAL LAW ISSUES

In terms of procedure, it is looking at reforms to the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure 1973 on arrest and bail, streamlining of trial proceedings to reduce delays, and introduction of better sentencing guidelines, among other aspects.

EVIDENCE LAW CHANGES

The Committee will also be examining whether there is a need for changes to the Indian Evidence Act 1872, including those relating to technological and forensic advances.

Controversially, the Committee will also be examining issues arising out of the “requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt”, as well as the “divergence of legal opinions on evidence law doctrines such as ‘fruits of the poisonous tree’ and ‘sealed cover’ in light of recent judicial developments.” 

The questionnaire does not include questions on either of these two issues, though there are questions about whether strict liability offences – where intent is irrelevant – should be introduced into the IPC.

The consultation process was initiated on 26 June, which means that experts have till 25 September or so to submit their views on these highlighted issues, or other needed reforms.

“The exercise shall be repeated over the course of the next three months in order to solicit detailed responses on such questions of law as the Committee requires expert opinion on,” the letter dated 26 June reads.

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