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
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:
The government has implemented a number of recommendations like:
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.
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):
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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