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The New Criminal Code: Key Highlights

On December 25, 2023, the President granted assent to three revamped Bills in the Lok Sabha, marking a significant step towards replacing the archaic British-era criminal laws. The three Bills are slated to supplant the Indian Penal Code (IPC) of 1860, the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) of 1973, and the Indian Evidence Act of 1872.

The Bharatiya Nyaya (Second) Sanhita Act, 2023, will replace the IPC, introducing modifications like adopting the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967's definition of a 'terrorist act' in Section 113. Notably, it widens the scope to include activities related to any counterfeit Indian currency, deviating from the UAPA's specifics.

The revised Act defines 'cruelty' against women, punishable by up to three years' imprisonment. It explicitly outlines actions likely to drive a woman to suicide or cause grave harm, emphasizing harassment for unlawful property demands.

The Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha (Second) Sanhita, 2023, introduces 'community service' as a punishment for minor offences. The revised Act refines the definition of 'petty organized crime,' now covering specific criminal acts committed by groups or gangs.

Incorporating feedback, the revised Bill expands the power of police to use handcuffs not only during arrests but also during the production before the court. However, it overlooks the panel's concern about police custody beyond the initial 15 days, potentially exposing individuals to custodial violence.

The Bharatiya Sakshya (Second) Adhiniyam, 2023, amends Section 61 to make electronic evidence admissible, subject to Section 63, addressing concerns about the lack of a certification requirement.

Despite these amendments, experts express reservations, citing missed opportunities to rectify overcriminalization and broader police powers. The Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha (Second) Sanhita's extension of police custody duration is particularly criticized for its potential impact on civil liberties, heightening the risk of police excesses and coerced evidence. The revised laws signal a transformative shift in India's legal landscape, aiming to align with contemporary challenges while sparking debates about the balance between law enforcement and individual rights.

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