Criminal Law Reforms Awareness Project
A large group of Indian and international legal experts along with members of civil society have come up with a website to create awareness about the criminal law reforms, which are proposed to be brought about by a committee set up under the Ministry of Home Affairs. This website aims to collate and disseminate information and commentary on the committee.
In May, the Ministry of Home Affairs constituted a National Level Committee for Reforms in Criminal Laws, which targets to review the criminal laws in India and to recommend far-reaching changes affecting the substantial, evidentiary and procedural laws.
However, as soon as the committee issued a public notice for expert consultation in the last week of June, concerns starting pouring in from legal experts all over the country questioning the committee’s constitution, functioning, and timelines of consultation.
Summary of the main objections to the Committee as raised by this Project:
First issue of concern is about the time at which this committee has invited consultations. Opening consultations at the time of global pandemic, in which India is one of the worst affected countries, is not a welcome measure as it is not feasible to expect engaged participation from all stakeholders. Also, it is neither realistic nor desirable to consider the overhauling of entire criminal justice system of a country within a time frame of 3 months. Experts have called this to be practically impossible.
Second issue is about the opacity in operation and transparency of the committee. When a committee is established, the ‘terms of reference’ are laid down in which it is stated what a committee is/is not entitled to do. This committee has not made its terms of reference public since the date of its establishment. Also, it is not publishing the responses received during the process of consultation. This is required to prevent misquoting in the final report.
Third concern is about the non-representative composition of the committee. Adequate and diverse representation is required for the committee to function democratically. The committee has only five members and none of them is a full-time member. There are no members to show specific representation from racial, sexual, gender religious or caste minorities, or from the working class or disabled communities. It also has no representation from civil society groups and from geographical regions outside north India.
Fourth issue pertains to the procedure adopted for consultations. The committee website has released questionnaires containing around 300 questions. It is an online media which operates only in English language. This is considered to be an exclusionary practice because in India there is low internet penetration and not everyone understands English.
Fifth concern is about the questions asked in the questionnaires. The committee has not provided any reason or context as to why certain areas of criminal law, as identified in the questionnaires, need reform and how was it decided that those specific areas of law need reform. Even concerns are being raised over the issue that the questionnaires contain incomprehensible and poorly framed questions.
In wake of the serious impact this committee might have on the entire criminal law system of the country, this website demands that the Ministry of Home Affairs should disband this committee.
For further information, visit http://disbandthecommittee.in/
For people who want to access the resources of information in their vernacular language can view it here http://disbandthecommittee.in/concerns.html
In support of the demand for disbandment, this project seeks active participation of concerned citizens. It has an email tool which allows you to register their concerns with the MHA, committee members, and your MP with a single click. You can access it here http://disbandthecommittee.in/mail.html
Geeti Pragyan Mohapatra
Student, National Law University Odisha