COMMUNITY SERVICE as an alternate form of punishment; electronic filing of FIRs, trials on video conferencing to ensure speedy justice, and recognising hate crimes that involve murder by a mob as a special offence — these are some of the key changes that move the needle towards a progressive overhaul of criminal laws.
Under the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, 2023, which seeks to replace the Indian Penal Code, community service is prescribed as an alternate form of punishment for some offences including small theft, defamation, and attempting to commit suicide with an intention to keep a public official from discharging her duty.
With three-fourths of all prisoners in jail being undertrials, community service as punishment keeps out of prison first-time convicts and those convicted for minor offences out
The Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita, 2023, the Bill that seeks to replace the Code of Criminal Procedure, allows for filing of First Information Report to the police “by electronic communication”. However, it requires the complainant to sign the record within three days of filing it.
The Sanhita also allows for the entire trial including recording of evidence to be conducted through video-conferencing which allows for a speedy trial.
Crucially, the proposed laws introduce provisions codifying offences linked to mob lynching and hate crime. The Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, 2023, creates a category of murder which states that each member of a group of five or more accused, if convicted, can be punished with death, or with imprisonment for life, or imprisonment for a term which shall be not less than 7 seven years.
While marital rape is still left untouched, the Bill seeks to include sexual intercourse with a a minor wife as rape. IPC currently carves out only one exception for marital rape — intercourse with wife who is less than the age of 15 years. The Supreme Court had in 2017 held that this 15 year limit was at odds with child rape laws under the POCSO Act.
On this exception, the Bill reads: “Sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under eighteen years of age, is not rape.”