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Revised criminal reform Bills in Parliament

Context:

  • The Centre introduced  three revised criminal reform Bills in Lok Sabha on Tuesday, withdrawing the previous versions, introduced in August this year.
  • On August 11, Union Home Minister Amit Shah had introduced three Bills in Lok Sabha to replace the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860; the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (originally enacted in 1898); and the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.
  • The new bills—Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS), 2023, to replace the IPC; Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita (BNSS), 2023, for CrPC; and Bharatiya Sakshya (BS) Bill, 2023, for the Indian Evidence Act—were subsequently referred to a standing committee the same day.
  • The committee, headed by BJP MP Brij Lal, proposed several key changes to the Bills.
  • Subsequently, the Centre re-introduced the revamped criminal law Bills in Parliament’s winter session.
  • However, several recommendations have gone unconsidered in the new Bill.

What were the committee’s suggestions, and what has changed now?

Handcuffs:

  • The use of handcuffs, as allowed in Clause 43(3) of the BNSS, to prevent the escape of individuals accused of serious offences and ensure the safety of police officers and staff during arrests, was welcomed by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs.
  • However, the panel suggested that this should be restricted to select heinous crimes like rape and murder rather than be extended to persons committing “economic offenses.”
  • This is because the term “economic offences” encompasses a wide range of offences, from petty to serious, and therefore, it may not be suitable for blanket application of handcuffing in all cases falling under this category.
  • “The committee, therefore, recommends that Clause 43(3) may be suitably amended to delete the words ‘economic offences’ from the clause,” the panel said in its report.

Mercy Petitions:

  • Clause 473(1) of the erstwhile BNSS allowed convicts undergoing death sentences or their legal heirs or relatives to file mercy petitions while providing the procedure and time frame for the same.
  • After being informed by jail authorities about the disposal of the petition of a convict sentenced to death, he, his legal heir, or a relative can submit a mercy petition within 30 days to the Governor.
  • If rejected, the person can petition the President within 60 days. No appeal against the order of the President shall lie in any court.
  • The earlier provision also said that prior to submitting the plea before the Governor or the President, it may be presented to the Centre or the state government’s Home Department.
  • However, the panel suggested constituting a quasi-judicial board to deal with commutation and remission matters rather than leaving such judicial functions to the Executive’s discretion.
  • It also proposed that a time frame be provided within which mercy petitions would be heard.

What changed: 

  • Besides changing the provision’s numbering from clause 473 to 472, the new Bill has deleted the provision that allowed mercy petitions to be forwarded to the Home Department of the state government or the Centre for review.

About Mercy petition:

  • Under Article 72 of the Constitution, “the President shall have the power to grant pardons, reprieves, respites or remissions of punishment or to suspend, remit or commute the sentence of any person convicted of any offence where the sentence is a sentence of death”.
  • Similarly, Article 161 confers pardoning powers on the governor, but these do not extend to death sentences.
  • In its 1981 ruling in Maru Ram vs. Union of India, the SC held that while deciding mercy petitions under Article 72, the President must act on the advice of the council of ministers.
  • Under the existing law, the President is bound by the Cabinet’s advice and can only return the plea for reconsideration once under Article 74 (1).
  • After this, if the Council of Ministers decides against the changes suggested by the President, she has no option but to accept them.

Syllabus: Prelims + Mains; GS II – Polity and Governance

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