Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita: Trials to Commence 90 Days Post Charges if Accused Fails to Appear

From July 1, the Indian Penal Code will be superseded by the new Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, introducing significant reforms in trial proceedings and handling of fugitive criminals. A landmark change will allow courts to hold trials and pass judgments in absentia, ensuring that the absence of the accused does not impede justice, which has been a critical issue under the current system.

This reform aims to address longstanding delays in the judicial process, illustrated by the notorious Ajmer blackmail scandal involving explicit photographs, which has seen five rounds of hearings since 1992 without a resolution. Victims and witnesses have either passed away or become too elderly and ill to attend court proceedings, allowing the accused to evade justice due to technicalities and procedural delays.

Under the new code, if an accused does not present themselves within 90 days of the charges being framed, the trial will proceed without them. This provision assumes that the accused has forfeited their right to a fair trial by failing to appear. Approximately 2,500 cases in the Ajmer district courts alone involve absconding defendants, highlighting the urgency for such reform.

Reclassification of Criminal Offenses and Trial Timelines

The reclassification of various offenses is another significant change. Notably, the code for cheating, currently listed under Section 420, will be changed to Section 316. Similarly, attempts to commit murder and rape, previously under Sections 307 and 376, will now fall under Sections 109 and 63, respectively. Moreover, trial courts are now mandated to conclude cases within three years, aiming to eliminate the prolonged suffering of victims awaiting justice.

Police Procedures and Custodial Rights

The new code also streamlines police procedures, allowing victims to file a ‘zero FIR’ at any police station, which will be transferred to the relevant station within 24 hours. Women can file e-FIRs, with immediate legal cognizance required. Additionally, when an arrest is made, notifying the family within 90 days is compulsory, enhancing transparency and accountability in the legal process.

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Protection for Medical Professionals and Enhanced Rights for the Accused

Medical professionals are provided a safeguard against hasty legal actions in their practice, with specific provisions for handling cases of medical negligence more judiciously. Furthermore, while the new code allows for certain testimonies to be recorded without the accused’s presence, it preserves the accused’s right to cross-examine witnesses, balancing judicial efficiency with fair trial rights.


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