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Present Scenario of Criminal Justice System

The Criminal Justice System includes the institutions/agencies and processes established by a government to control crime in the country.

The aim of the Criminal Justice System is to protect the rights and personal liberty of individuals and the society against its invasion by others.

The Criminal Justice System consists of four main components

  1. police,
  2. prosecution,
  3. prisons and
  4. court.

The agencies are collectively responsible for apprehending, prosecuting and sentencing offenders, keeping in view the interest of the accused, the victims and the society at large. These agencies prevent the social disorder and the crime. The basic objectives of the criminal justice system are to maintain the rule of law and to promote a sense of security among the members of the society. The Criminal law in India is contained in a number of sources – The Indian Penal Code of 1860, the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955, Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 and the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. Criminal Justice System can impose penalties on those who violate the established laws.

The criminal law and criminal procedure are in the concurrent list of the seventh schedule of the constitution.

In India only about 16 out of 100 people alleged for criminal offences are finally convicted. Low rate of conviction points to the inefficiency of the Criminal Justice System of India. It includes the police, prosecutors, and the judiciary.

In the past few decades, the criminal justice system has come to face formidable challenges, arising mainly out of growing variety and complexity of crime. Criminals have become technically sophisticated. They have been using highly advanced means of communication to disturb peace and security of nation. Criminals have been taking advantage of loopholes of the adversarial justice system which revolve around the statement of witnesses. Until the middle of 20th century, witnesses were forgotten despite the fact that they are the back bone of criminal trial. Criminal case is built on the evidence for which witnesses are required. If they turn hostile, there is no other support to help criminal justice functionaries to punish the accused-Swaran Singh V. State of Punjab1)

The Principal aim of Criminal Law is to ensure the right of the accused to a fair trial. The interest of the state lies in prosecuting the criminal obtaining credible and legally tenable evidence from the witnesses. Witnesses are entitled to protection from intimidation considering the crucial role played by them in the delivery of criminal justice. State is to provide protections to the prosecution witnesses. There is no such mechanism to protect the defense witnesses who are likely to be intimidated at the hands of the states. There are gaps in the existing legislation that needs to be fixed. The Criminal Justice particularly the police system brings the manifestation of state power and the human rights being largely available against the state The two are inextricably linked.

The criminal justice system has been originated in colonial period. The legal basis to the Criminal Justice System came to be provided by the Indian Penal Code, 1860, The Police Act, 1861, The Criminal Procedure Code, 1898, The Evidence act 1872 and the Indian Prisons Act, 1894. The norms and the value of the colonial system inhere in it. The Criminal Justice System of the colonial time was obviously in accordance with the needs of the police state for keeping of the people subjugated. The Criminal Justice System in India is an age-old system primarily based upon the Penal legal system that was established by the British Rule in India. The system has still not undergone any substantial changes even after 70 years of Independence. The biggest example could be Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) that defines sedition and provides for its punishment. The continuance of such a system in the post independence period of the welfare state is a basic contradiction. It goes against the needs and aspirations of the people. It has the effect of negating the basic rights of the people.

The inequitable economic and social system of our country provides a befitting base for continuance of the brutalities of the police system. No sincere effort has been made for making the operational Criminal Justice System particularly the police system to conform to the basic rights of the people. The constitutional welfare norms taking in view the prevalent economic and social system demands for change of the law. Reasons for inefficiency in justice delivery are:

  1. Complex nature of the crime: Crime has increased rapidly and the nature of crimes are becoming more and more complex due to technological innovations.
  2. Investigation incapability: It led to delay in or haphazard investigation of crimes which greatly contribute to the delay in dispensing prompt justice.
  3. Inequality in the justice: The rich and the powerful hardly get convicted, even in cases of serious crimes. Also, the growing nexus between crime and politics has added a new dimension to the crime scenario.
  4. The lowered confidence of common man: The judicial procedures have become complicated and expensive. There is a rise in cases of mob violence.

Steps taken by government to improve Criminal Justice System

The government has implemented a number of recommendations like:

  1. permitting videography of statements,
  2. the definition of rape has been expanded and new offences against women have been added.
  3. The victim compensation is now a part of the law.
  4. The Government is in the process to draft a new Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) for the appointment of High Court and Supreme Court Judges.
  5. The government has removed more than 1000 obsolete laws which came in the way of smooth administration.
  6. The Government has given its approval for implementation of an umbrella scheme of ‘Modernisation of Police Forces’ with proper use of technology.
  7. The Gram Nyayalayas and Lok Adalats were established to provide access to justice to the citizens at their doorsteps.
  8. The Legal Service Authority Act was enacted by the Parliament with an object to provide free and competent legal service to the weaker section of society.

Need of the hour

  1. For the protection of witness in India, there is no such law bearing few sections to protect the witnesses from being asked indecent, scandalous offensive question and question which intend to annoy or insult them except Section 151 and 152 Evidence Act .
  2. There is no provision for the protection of witnesses in India. The witnesses, who are considered to play a vital role in the proceedings, have to face a lot of hurdles during the administration of the criminal justice system.

Hurdles faced by witnesses

  1. When a witness is summoned to a court to give statements, he is not provided with the basic facilities of travelling to and from his place of residence to the court. If he is paid, the amount of expenditure given is too less in contrast to what he has incurred. Poor witness is exploited. He is neither compensated nor does the court reimburse his travel.
  2. When he somehow reaches the court, he is not at all treated in a proper manner. The Mallimath Committee (Committee on reforms in Criminal Justice system, headed by Justice Mallimath., p. 151.(Volume 1)) has expressed its opinion saying, “The witness should be treated with respect, should be considered as a guest of honour.”
    When a witness goes to the court for giving evidence or statements, there is hardly any officer of the court, who is there to receive him, provide a seat and tell him where he is to give evidence or to give him such other assistance as he may need. In most of the cases, there is no designated place with proper arrangements for seating and resting while waiting for his turn, to be examined as a witness in the court. He is not even asked for the glass of water. Similarly, toilet facility and other amenities and refreshments are not provided.
  3. All these things are sufficient enough to frustrate a witness. But this frustration is at its Zenith when he comes to know that the case in which he has to appear, has been adjourned. In fact, it is a fashion to adjourn cases. This is also perhaps the main reason of the huge backlog of cases in India. This adjournment demoralizes the witness to such an extent that when he is called for appearance, next time, he has to think several times before deciding whether to go or not. A few more adjournments like these may happen. He voluntary gives up and refuses to come to the court to the give his statements or produce evidence or for cross-examination. This act of the witness proves to be a blessing for the accused, who normally gets acquitted due to lack of evidence.
  4. The witness is subjected to a lot of harassment. He is being cross-examined in such a way that he is under an immense mental pressure while answering the question put to him. Mr. Soli Sorabjee, the Former Attorney General has rightly remarked that: “Nothing shakes public confidence in the criminal justice delivery system more than the collapse of the prosecution owing to witness turning hostile and retracting their previous statements.”

Witness turning hostile

One of the main reasons for the large percentage of acquittals in criminal cases is of witnesses turning hostile and giving false testimony in criminal cases. But why does the witness turn hostile? The reason is the unholy combination of money and muscle powers, intimation and monetary.

In the sensational cases like the BMW and Jessica Lal murder case and most recently, the best bakery case, were the human rights commission intervened when the witnesses changed their statements in the court due to lack of protections to them and their families. In the cases, i.e. the BMW and Jessica Lal case, most of the eyewitness did not open up to pin point the possible reason which compelled them to change their stand. The fact is that the accused usually intimidates the witnesses, because there was no program available under which the administration could give him/her the requisite security cover.

Problems faced by Criminal Justice System

The Supreme Court observed that Criminal Justice System is not working in our Country as it should. It is further observed in State of U.P. V. Chhoteylal2):

  1. The investigators hardly have professional orientation. They do not have modern tools.
  2. On many occasions impartial investigation suffers because of political interference.
  3. The criminal trials are protracted because of non-appearance of official witness on time and non-availability of the facilities for recording evidence by video conferencing.
  4. The defence lawyers do not make themselves available and the court would be routinely informed about their preoccupation with other matters.
  5. The primary focus must be on police reforms, appointing more judges, deploying scientific techniques, beefing up forensic labs, and other infrastructure investments are the need of the hour.

It is imperative that criminal cases, relating to defence against the state, corruption, dowry death, domestic violence, financial fraud and cyber crimes are to be fast tracked and decided in a fixed time frame.


The appointment of the Vohra Committee was the very first attempt towards reforming the Criminal Justice System in India. Vohra Committee report (1993) made an observation on the criminalisation of politics and of the nexus among criminals, politicians and bureaucrats in India. In 2000, the government formed a panel headed by Justice V.S. Malimath, the former Chief Justice of Kerala and Karnataka, to suggest reform in the century-old criminal justice system. The Malimath Committee submitted its report in 2003 with 158 recommendations but these were never implemented. There is a lack of synergy among the judiciary, the prosecution and the police. A large number of guilty go unpunished in a large number of cases. On the contrary, many innocent people remain as undertrail prisoners as well. As per NCRB data, 67.2% of our total prison population comprises of undertrials prisoners. The Government of India has been considering revisiting the Malimath Committee Report on reforms (2003) in the Criminal Justice System of India. It is a good idea to revisit the committee recommendations with a view to considering their possible implementation. However, the reforms should be made with care and after proper debate.

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AIR 2000 SC 217; 2000 Cr. L.J 2780
2011(1) RCR (Cri) 443(SC)

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