New Bill on Criminal Procedure to Bring Changes in Police Probe, Trial with Aid of Technologies

The Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita (BNSS) Bill, which seeks to replace the colonial-era CrPC, proposes key changes in criminal justice delivery system, including a provision for attachment of properties of proclaimed offenders in India and abroad and permitting handcuffs for the arrest of persons in some cases.

The Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS) Bill and the Bharatiya Sakshya (BS) Bill were also tabled in the Lok Sabha on Friday and they will replace the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. The proposed three bills have been sent to a parliamentary panel for further scrutiny.

The Bill on criminal procedures is said to be in line with the Centre’s Digital India initiative and aims to give impetus to greater use of technology allowing trials via video-conferencing.

The bill also proposes that no sanction will be required to prosecute a government official in cases like sexual offences and trafficking.

“A decision to grant or reject sanction to prosecute a public servant must be reached by the government within 120 days of receiving a request. If the government fails to do so, the sanction will be deemed to have been accorded,” it said.

The BNSS has fresh provisions to make waging of war against the government of a foreign nation at peace with India as well as committing depredation on the territory of such foreign State, an offence punishable with up to seven years in prison.

Section 151 of the BNSS Bill says, “whoever wages war against the government of any foreign state at peace with the government of India or attempts to wage such war, or abets the waging of such war, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or for a term which may extend to seven years, with/without fine”.

The provision on attachment of property of a proclaimed offender abroad provides that the superintendent of police or commissioner of police shall make an application to the court and thereafter that court shall initiate steps to request assistance from a court or an authority in the contracting country for identification.

Under the new law, the charge sheet will have to be filed within 90 days, and the court can extend time to probe the agency by another 90 days looking at the situation.

The judgement by the lower court has to be delivered in 30 days after conclusion of the trial.

On the use of handcuffs, it said the police officer may, “Keeping in view the nature and gravity of the offence, use handcuff while effecting the arrest of a person who is a habitual, repeat offender who escaped from custody, who has committed offence of organised crime, offence of terrorist act, drug related crime, or offence of illegal possession of arms and ammunition, murder, rape, acid attack, counterfeiting of coins and currency notes, human trafficking, sexual offences against children, offences against the State, including acts endangering sovereignty, unity and integrity of India or economic offences.”

The Bill has provisions for the magistrate to order any person to give samples of his signature, handwriting, voice or finger impressions for the purpose of investigation without being arrested.

With regard to detention by police, there are provisions in the bill for police to detain or remove any person resisting, refusing or ignoring, or disregarding directions given as part of preventive action.

According to the new bill, a person accused of crime can be tried and convicted in his absence.

“Notwithstanding anything contained in this Sanhita…for the time being in force, when a person declared as a proclaimed offender, whether or not charged jointly, has absconded to evade trial and there is no immediate prospect of arresting him, it shall be deemed to operate as a waiver of the right of such person to be present and tried in person, and the Court shall, after recording reasons in writing, in the interest of justice, proceed with the trial in the like manner and with like effect as if he was present, under this Sanhita and pronounce the judgment,” reads section 356 of the BNSS Bill.

The BNSS Bill provides for the use of technology and forensic sciences in matters of investigating a crime, lodging of FIRs, and sending summons through electronic modes.

The legislation adopts a citizen-centric approach for supply of a first information report and informs victims about the progress of the case, including by digital mean and the trials will be facilitated via video conferencing.

On withdrawal of cases, the Bill says if a case with a punishment of over seven years is to be withdrawn, the victim will be given a chance of being heard before the process is initiated.

Regarding ‘Zero FIR’, the Bill proposes that citizens can lodge an FIR at any police station irrespective of jurisdiction limits and the FIR must be transferred within 15 days to the police station having jurisdiction over the place of crime.

The trials, appeal proceedings, recording of depositions including those of public servants and police officers, may be held in electronic mode and the statement of the accused too can be recorded through video-conferencing, the Bill proposed.

According to the Bill, summons, warrants, documents, police reports, statements of evidence can be done in electronic form.

The new proposed law has a provision on procedures for the timeframe to file mercy petitions in death sentence cases and after being informed by jail authorities about the disposal of the petition of a convict sentenced to death, he, or his legal heir or relative can submit a mercy petition within 30 days to the Governor.

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If rejected, the person can petition the President within 60 days and no appeal against the order of the President shall lie in any court, it proposed.

On the sanction to prosecute a government official in criminal cases, the new law proposes : “A decision to grant or reject sanction to prosecute a public servant must be reached by the government within 120 days of receiving a request. If the government fails to do so, the sanction will be deemed to have been accorded.”

No sanction is required in cases including sexual offences, trafficking, etc, it said.

The BNSS Bill, which will replace CrPC, now has 533 sections, 160 sections of old law have been changed, nine new sections have been added and nine sections have been repealed.

The home minister had said in Lok Sabha that provision has been made in the law to digitise the entire process from FIR to case diary, case diary to charge sheet and from charge sheet to judgement.

Videography has been compulsory at the time of search and seizure, which will be part of the case and this will save the innocent citizens from being implicated, the minister had said, adding “no charge sheet will be valid without such recording by the police.”

On filing of charge sheet, the trial courts will now be bound to give notice of framing of charges to the accused person within 60 days, the minister had said.

The trial judge will have to give the decision within 30 days of the completion of the argument, this will not keep the decision pending for years, and the decision will have to be made available online within seven days.

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