New Criminal Laws: How Your Interaction With Police Has Changed Since 1 July 2024

Abhishek Kumar

Jul 02, 2024, 12:56 PM | Updated 12:56 PM IST

Three new criminal laws introduced in India
Three new criminal laws introduced in India
  • Three new criminal laws took effect across India on 1 July. Here are five features of the new legal system you should know pertaining to dealing with the police.
  • At the stroke of midnight on 1 July 2024, India entered a new phase of its legal history with the introduction of three new criminal laws.

    Any change in criminal law boils down to one fundamental question: does it ease my interaction with law enforcement officials, mainly the police?

    Let's look at some key features of the new laws, with a focus on the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita (BNSS), 2023.

    > More power to police officers on FIR registration

    Section 173(3) of the BNSS empowers officers in charge of police stations to use their discretion to register a first information report (FIR).

    For cases involving cognizable offences in which the quantum of punishment is between three and seven years, the officer has the power to deny the filing of an FIR for at least 14 days.

    During this time, they will have to conduct a preliminary inquiry after obtaining permission from officers not below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP).

    If, within 14 days, preliminary investigations do not reveal a prima facie case, then an FIR won’t be registered.

    This goes against the grain of the Supreme Court (SC) guidelines laid down in the Lalita Kumari case. The SC had made it compulsory to register an FIR if it is revealed by an aggrieved party that the offence committed against them is cognisable — an offence in which police can arrest without warrant.

    Critics fear that the new law will affect the poor and downtrodden sections of society, as local police officers are generally reluctant to file an FIR due to the accountability accompanying an official filing.

    The main fear with this change, however, is that a 14-day gap could be used to browbeat the poor victim for an out-of-court settlement.

    > Longer window for police investigation

    A significant change with the new law is extending the days of police custody.

    While Section 167(2) of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) made it mandatory to send an accused to judicial custody after 15 days in police custody, Section 187(3) of BNSS 2023 extends the 15-day time limit to 60 days and 90 days.

    The ninety-day extension has been allowed in relatively rare circumstances — cases in which an offence is punishable with imprisonment for a term of 10 years or more, life imprisonment, or a death sentence.

    However, final authority for the extension of police custody lies with the magistrate.

    Police custody extensions are controversial due to the track record of policing in India. One major purpose of the 15-day police custody was to nudge investigating officers towards completing the investigation as soon as possible. The longer the duration of police custody, the greater the risk of custodial torture, sometimes resulting in the deaths of the accused.

    With 60 to 90 days police custody, critics fear it may result in more custodial torture. Political activists, for instance, fear that the provision may be used against them ahead of elections; they may be locked up for that duration on the pretext of investigation.

    On the other hand, in-depth, time-consuming, and conspiracy-laden cases would benefit from the extension.

    > Absconding cannot escape or delay justice

    Fugitive criminals no longer have the right to be tried only in person. Under Section 356 of BNSS 2023, an elaborate procedure has been laid down to punish wilful fugitives.

    Before declaring the person a fugitive, full efforts will be made to establish communication with the accused. Two arrest warrants will be sent to the person’s address within 30 days.

    Then, in a local or national newspaper circulating in the last-known residence of the accused, a notification declaring a court trial will be published. This notification will contain a warning that if they fail to appear, the trial will commence.

    Additionally, efforts will also be made to inform the person about the trial through a friend or relative.

    If the accused does not turn up within 90 days of framing of charges, trial will commence in their absence, and judgement will be pronounced as per established procedures.

    This process will also involve the appointment of advocates by the state on behalf of absconders.

    The erstwhile framework permitted only the examination of witnesses in such cases, leading to the pendency of cases. With BNSS, judgements can also be pronounced.

    > Key timelines for speedier delivery of justice

    Multiple timelines are in place for conducting trials and delivering verdicts.

    It begins right at the investigation stage. Section 193(3)(ii) of BNSS makes it compulsory for police to inform victims about the progress of investigation within 90 days. It can be done through electronic communication.

    Section 193(9) states that if further investigation is necessary after framing the charge sheet, it has to be completed within 90 days. This period is extendable only if the court agrees.

    Moreover, under Section 230 of BNSS, the timelines for the supply of documents by police to the accused and victim have been set to 14 days from the date of the accused's appearance.

    To expedite hearings in rape cases, Section 184(6) of BNSS has made it mandatory for the medical officer to forward the report of examination of the victim to the investigation officer within seven days.

    All these provisions are designed to introduce transparency, accountability, and steadfastness in police work.

    For honourable judges, it will now be mandatory to pronounce the judgement within 30 days of the conclusion of the argument (Section 258 of the BNSS). The 30-day period can be extended to 45 days, but for that, the judge will have to give their reasoning in writing.

    > Greater transparency and technology use in the legal system

    To avoid the problem of planting evidence by conniving police officers, video recording of searches and seizures is useful.

    Section 2, along with Section 105, of BNSS 2023 mandates police to record every part of their combing operation. Besides recording, police will have to sign the list of findings by witnesses present at the location.

    Similarly, under Section 176(3) of BNSS 2023, every step in the forensic investigation will be videographed. However, a forensic investigation is mandatory only for crimes involving a punishment of seven years or more.

    Additionally, electronic mediums can be used to examine the accused under Section 308 of BNSS 2023. Witnesses can use Section 180(3) to record their statements through audio-video electronic means. Towards this end, Section 530 provides almost a blanket licence for conducting most of the procedures in electronic mode.

    To conclude, new criminal laws give more power to the police for registration and investigation of an offence. However, through greater technological intervention, an effort has been made to balance it with transparency.

    Abhishek is Staff Writer at Swarajya.

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