Judicial Reforms

[oped of the day] A road map for criminal justice reforms


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Criminal justice reforms


Home Minister recently said that the Bureau of Police Research and Development should work to amend the various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC). 

Need for reforms

  • Well-conceived reforms in these laws would translate into reforms in criminal justice. 
  • Criminal law is considered to be the most apparent expression of the relationship between a state and its citizens. 
  • There is a systemic error of non-adherence to a particular theory of punishment. The criminal justice system often swings between the three theories of deterrence, retribution and reformation depending on its convenience.

Issues with amendments so far

  • Until now, envisaged amendments were always focused on specific provisions, offences, or classes of offences.
  • The clarity required for the creation of new offences, reclassification or removal of existing offences, and changes to the quantum of punishment is missing from the discourse.

Way ahead – Principles to be followed

  • Government must first identify the provisions to be revised and provide a justification for doing so. 
  • The authors of Codification, Macaulay and the Indian Penal Code suggest a relook into the general principles of criminal law, the language of the IPC, and the rules which should govern its interpretation. 

Central place to victim

  • Victimological underpinnings should be given a major thrust in reforming laws to identify the rights of crime victims. 
  • Victim and witness protection schemes, use of victim impact statements, advent of victim advocacy, increased victim participation in criminal trials, enhanced access of victims to compensation and restitution are steps needed.
  • These all point towards the increased role of victims in the criminal justice system.

New offences

  • Construction of new offences and reworking of the existing classification of offences must be informed by the altered principles of criminal jurisprudence from the past four decades. 
  • Liability questions in offences need a fresh look. Criminal liability could be graded better to assign the degree of punishments. 
  • New types of punishments like community service orders, restitution orders, and other aspects of restorative and reformative justice could also be brought into this fold.

Reclassifying offences

  • The scheme of chapters and classification of offences can be drastically reworked. 
  • Offences like criminal conspiracy, sedition, offences against coin and stamps etc. must be abolished or replaced. 
  • Chapters of the IPC are overloaded at several places. 
  • It is unnecessary to have hundreds of sections in the category of property offences. Even the chapters on offences against public servants, contempt of authority, public tranquility, and trespass can be redefined and narrowed. 
  • New offences under a fresh classification scheme, like those suggested by the Malimath Committee on criminal justice reforms, can be introduced. 
  • Classification of offences must be done in a manner conducive to management of crimes in the future.


  • Unprincipled criminalisation must be avoided to save the state from dealing with too many entrants into the criminal justice system. 
  • Guiding principles need to be developed after sufficient debate before criminalising an act as a crime. 
  • Unprincipled criminalisation often leads to not only the creation of new offences on unscientific grounds, but also arbitrariness in the criminal justice system.

Reforms in sentencing

  • Sentencing reforms are highly imperative. 
  • Principled sentencing is needed as judges at present have the discretion to decide the quantum and nature of sentence to be imposed.
  • Often sentence convicts differently for crimes of the same nature and/or gravity.


  • Criminal justice is in a state of policy ambiguity. 
  • India needs to draft a clear policy that should inform the changes to be envisaged in the IPC or CrPC. 
  • Simultaneous improvements are to be made in the police, prosecution, judiciary and in prisons.
  • A Criminal Justice Reform Committee with a mandate to evolve criminal justice policy should be formed. 
  • It should further the work done by the Menon Committee on Criminal Justice System, the Malimath Committee, and the Law Commission in India in this regard.

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