Asia In News

Lawyers and Activists Rally Against India's New Criminal Laws

Published On Tue, 09 Jul 2024
Virat Dasgupta
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Lawyers and activists in India are calling on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government to suspend three new sets of criminal laws, arguing that they will escalate litigation in an already overloaded justice system and grant excessive powers to the police. India replaced its existing criminal justice framework — including the Indian Penal Code of 1860, the 1973 Code of Criminal Procedure, and the Indian Evidence Act of 1872 — with these new laws in July.
Effective since July 1, the new laws expand police authority regarding pre-trial detention and introduce the death penalty for gang-rapes involving minors under 18, among other measures. They also mandate that judges issue written verdicts within 45 days post-trial and frame charges within 60 days of the initial court hearing.
Lawyers in India are concerned that pending cases could be prolonged, as these deadlines apply only to new cases post-July 1. There is also uncertainty over whether the old or new laws apply to cases registered after July 1 for crimes committed before that date. Delhi-based lawyer Shadan Farasat stated, "It only complicates the work for lawyers," noting that many provisions will require fresh interpretation by the courts, potentially leading to more litigation.
In protest against these laws, two lawyer associations in Tamil Nadu, representing over 13,000 members, have announced plans to boycott court proceedings on July 8. Requests for comment from India's Home Ministry and Law Ministry went unanswered. India asserts that thousands of judicial officials, public prosecutors, and police officers have been trained on implementing these new laws. Modi's government defends the laws as "victim-centric" and claims they will modernize the system to be among the world's most advanced.
According to the government, the new laws mandate forensic investigations for crimes punishable by seven years or more in prison, aiming to expedite justice and achieve a 90 percent conviction rate. The laws also introduce penalties for offenses like mob violence and hate speech but have drawn criticism for failing to provide protections for male rape victims.
Under India's Constitution, states have the authority to amend such laws. Karnataka state plans to make over 20 changes to the new laws, criticizing provisions that criminalize activities such as hunger strikes against the government. Human rights organization Amnesty International has called on Indian authorities to immediately repeal the new laws, warning of potential abuse by police.
Amnesty noted that police can now seek up to 15 days of custody, which can be extended in increments, a change from the previous law that limited such custody to the initial 15 days after an arrest. This alteration, Amnesty cautioned, could foster an environment conducive to torture and other forms of mistreatment.
Disclaimer: This image is taken from Reuters.
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