On December 21, 2023, in the midst of the winter session, the Rajya Sabha successfully greenlit three progressive Criminal Bills: the Bharatiya Sakshya (Second) Bill, 2023, Bharatiya Nyaya (Second) Sanhita (BNS) 2023, and the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha (Second) Sanhita (BNSS) 2023. This legislative milestone marked a significant overhaul of India’s criminal justice system, signaling the retirement of archaic laws like the Evidence Act, 1872; Penal Code, 1860; and the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, remnants of the colonial era.

The Lok Sabha paved the way for these bills on December 20, 2023, amidst the suspension of 141 Members of Parliament from both houses, setting the stage for transformative legal reforms.

Prior to this, the Central Government withdrew the initial versions of the three criminal bills—Bharatiya Sakshya Bill, 2023, Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS) 2023, and Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita (BNSS) 2023. The revised bills emerged after meticulous scrutiny and incorporation of amendments proposed by the Parliamentary Standing Committee, chaired by Brij Lal, a Rajya Sabha member.

Noteworthy features of Bharatiya Nyaya (Second) Sanhita (BNS) 2023:

  1. Introduction of terrorism as a distinct offence.
  2. Inclusion of community service as a form of penalty.
  3. Removal of sedition as an offence, replaced by provisions against jeopardizing India’s sovereignty, unity, and integrity.
  4. Recognition of organized crime, encompassing offenses such as kidnapping, extortion, contract killing, land grabbing, financial scams, and cybercrime on behalf of a crime syndicate.
  5. Establishment of mob lynching as a punishable offence.

Key highlights of Bharatiya Sakshya (Second) Bill, 2023:

  1. Classification of electronic records as documents, covering information stored in semiconductor memory or any communication devices.
  2. Introduction of electronic oral evidence.
  3. Implementation of a comprehensive certificate for submitting electronic evidence.
  4. Expansion of secondary evidence to include oral and written admissions, along with testimony from an individual qualified to examine documents.

Key highlights of Bhartiya Nagarik Suraksha (Second) Sanhita (BNSS) 2023:

  1. Provision for 15 days of police custody, with partial authorization during the initial 40 or 60 days of the 60 or 90 days period of judicial custody.
  2. Authorization for police officers to use handcuffs in specific cases.
  3. Empowerment of any police officer to request a medical examination of the accused in certain cases, including rape cases.
  4. Magistrate’s authority to order individuals to provide finger impressions and voice samples.

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