The new criminal laws in India signify a departure from the colonial-era Indian Penal Code (IPC) of 1860, which primarily focused on punishment rather than justice. These laws were made by a foreign ruler to run his rule and govern its subjects.

One significant aspect to be noted is - the change in nomenclature of the Bill from Indian Penal Code, which would otherwise translate to Bharatiya Danda Sanhita, to Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita. The change in the operative word from Danda (Punishment) to Nyaya (Justice) denotes a fundamental change in the basis of criminal prosecution- from penalising to delivering justice.

This shift is not merely semantic but embodies a transition from a punitive to a reformative theory of jurisprudence, with a newfound emphasis on victim-centric justice.

This marks a shift in its axis from Punitive theory of Jurisprudence to Reformative theory and ensures that justice is delivered to each stakeholder in the criminal justice system. The ease of Justice has been attempted to be ushered in through simple, consistent, transparent and accountable procedures and fair, time bound, evidence-based speedy trials for enforcement which will reduce the burden on courts and jails.

Historically, the IPC served the interests of British rulers, prioritizing the protection of their regime over the welfare of Indian citizens. The new laws mark a departure from this legacy. In the old laws, instead of giving priority to homicide and misbehaviour with women, priority was given to the protection of treasury, protection of railways and the safety of the British Crown. In new laws crimes against women and children, matters affecting the human body, security of the country's borders, crimes related to the Army, Navy and Air Force, electoral crimes, tampering with coins, currency notes and government stamps etc. have been kept first. The new criminal laws have been crafted in alignment with the spirit of the Indian Constitution.

The revamped legal framework aims at swift and transparent justice by introducing various measures. In order to ensure speedy justice through these laws, there are prescribed time limits for the police, lawyers and judges.

The incorporation of technology at every stage of crime-scene investigation and trial is a cornerstone of the reforms. This not only ensures transparency and accountability in police probes but also enhances the quality of evidence, safeguarding the rights of both victims and the accused.

Upon analysing, the reforms in the new criminal lawsare structured around three essential rights for victims: participatory rights, right to information, and right to compensation.

Building upon the recommendations from the various Law Commission Reports and the Justice Malimath Committee Report (2003) that focuses on ‘justice to victims’ and victimology as crucial areas of reform and made recommendations, suggested increasing victims’ participatory role and for better compensatory justice. Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita (BNSS) solidifies the role of victims in the criminal justice process.

As regards participatory rights, the BNSS introduces a provision akin to Section 321 of CrPC, allowing the prosecutor to withdraw a case with court consent. Cl.360 mandates the victim's participation, ensuring their voice is heard before such withdrawal.

BNSS further expands the victim's right to information in crucial ways including free access to FIR, regular updates on the investigation within ninety days, and comprehensive details of the case through mandatory police reports, FIRs, and witness statements.

The BNSS has further institutionally recognised the right to get Zero FIRs registered under Cl.173. This eliminates the challenge of territorial jurisdiction as an obstacle for victims, ensuring that FIRs can be filed irrespective of the location of crime.

The victim-centric reforms, as embodied in the new criminal laws, herald a paradigm shift towards justice delivery rather than mere punishment. By empowering victims, ensuring their active participation, and leveraging technology, these reforms strive to create a legal framework that aligns with the constitutional principles of justice and fairness.

Author is an Advocate, practising at the Supreme Court of India & Delhi High Court.

[The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. Verdictum does not assume any responsibility or liability for the contents of the article.]