Supreme Court junks plea questioning validity of new criminal laws | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Supreme Court junks plea questioning validity of new criminal laws

May 21, 2024 12:43 AM IST

A bench of justices Bela Trivedi and Pankaj Mithal said the petition was filed in a “very casual and cavalier manner” and that laws were to be implemented later

The Supreme Court on Monday refused to entertain a petition that challenged the validity of three new criminal laws arguing that they purportedly perpetuate colonial-era practices and fail to safeguard citizen rights.

The Supreme Court of India. (HT PHOTO)
The Supreme Court of India. (HT PHOTO)

A bench of justices Bela M Trivedi and Pankaj Mithal noted that not only was the petition filed in a “very casual and cavalier manner”, but the laws were also to be implemented later.

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“We are dismissing it...the laws have not been implemented till date. The petition has been filed in a very casual manner,” the bench told advocate Vishal Tiwari, who argued for his petition in person.

While Tiwari chose to withdraw the petition, the court told the lawyer that he would have been imposed with a monetary cost had he opted to argue for his plea. The bench proceeded to dismiss Tiwari’s petition as withdrawn.

Tiwari in January filed the petition contesting the legality of the three new criminal laws, claiming they do not protect citizens’ rights and instead uphold traditions from the colonial era.

The petition said the laws, namely Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita 2023, Bharatiya Nagrik Suraksha Sanhita 2023, and Bharatiya Sakshya Adhiniyam 2023, were passed without parliamentary debate and lack provisions to ensure fair trial and protect against police overreach.

The three laws, replacing the Indian Penal Code (IPC), Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), and Indian Evidence Act, are set to become operational from July 1.

Tiwari said that these laws “maintain” a “police state” akin to colonial times and urged the court to stay their implementation. Additionally, he called for the formation of an expert committee, to be headed by a former Supreme Court judge and comprising judges, senior lawyers, and legal jurists as its members, to assess the laws’ viability and propose necessary adjustments.

The lawyer-petitioner highlighted alleged flaws in the laws, including ambiguous titles, inadequate safeguards for property attachment, and concerns regarding the admissibility of electronic evidence without proper tampering safeguards.

In an interview with Hindustan Times published on Monday, Union home minister Amit Shah maintained that the focus of the new criminal laws is justice and not punishment. “It is justice that is in line with Indian legal philosophy. At the same time, the aim is also to build the world’s most modern justice system. It is flexible enough to accommodate any technology that will be developed in the next 50 years,” he said.

Shah added that the government endeavors to deliver justice within three years and thus timelines have been added in 35 sections of the legislation. “We have sharpened the focus on crimes against women and children; a new chapter on this has been introduced in the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita. We have also taken cognisance of new crimes, such as snatching...Terrorism has been defined in the law for the first time,” Shah said.

Gazette notifications issued in February stated that the three new laws would be effective July 1 even as it put on hold the provision related to hit-and-run cases under the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita. Transporters’ associations around the nation in January protested against certain parts of the new law, which stated that any driver motorist who kills someone by reckless or reckless driving and then leaves the scene faces up to 10 years in prison apart from fine.

The Centre at that time assured transporters that a decision on enforcing the stringent provisions in such cases would be taken only after consultation with the All India Motor Transport Congress and put the impugned provision in abeyance.

The Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita retains most offences but adds community service as a form of punishment. Replacing sedition, there is a new offence for acts endangering the sovereignty, unity, and integrity of India.

The Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha (Second) Sanhita, 2023, allows for up to 15 days of police custody, which can be authorised incrementally during the initial 40 or 60 days of the 60 or 90-day period of judicial custody.

Commenting on this provision, Tiwari claimed: “This may lead to denial of bail for the entire period if the police have not exhausted the 15 days of custody.”

This approach differs from laws such as the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), 1976, where police custody is limited to the first 30 days, said the plea. “The Supreme Court has held that as a general rule, police custody should be taken in the first 15 days of remand. The extension of 40 or 60 days should be used only as an exception,” it added.

SC refuses to entertain plea against new criminal laws, allows withdrawal of petition

Tiwari cited the provision for handcuffing during the arrest of offenders of heinous crimes or habitual offenders who have escaped custody. “The Supreme Court has held that the use of handcuffs is inhumane, unreasonable, arbitrary, and repugnant to Article 21 of the Constitution.”

The plea said the power to attach property from proceeds of crime does not have safeguards provided in the Prevention of Money Laundering Act. Tiwari objected to the continuation of the trial and delivery of a judgement if the attendance of an accused could not be obtained. “While expediting trials to reduce delays is the need of the hour, it should not come at the cost of compromising the fairness of the trial and the accused’s rights.”

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