The Committee for Reforms in Criminal Laws Preclude Public Concerns : AILAJ Wrote Letter To The Ministry & Chairperson

21.08.2020

To,

  1. Mr Amit Shah,
    The Minister of Home Affairs
    India

2. Prof. (Dr.) Ranbir Singh Chairperson & Vice-Chancellor Committee for Reforms in Criminal Laws Centre for Criminology and Victimology National Law University, Delhi

Dear Sir,

Sub.: Reg. Committee for Reforms in Criminal Laws: Concerns regarding the intention of the Committee, its constitution and its functioning

The All India Lawyers Association for Justice consists of lawyers from across the country who have come together to uphold the core values of the Constitution. The Association is concerned about the manner in which the foundational values of the Constitution are being eroded and believe it is our duty to fight any such erosion.

We are submitting this representation in the regard to the Committee for Reforms in Criminal Laws and the manner in which the entire process reeks of arbitrariness and impropriety.

At the outset, we would like to point out that such an exercise was initiated during the lockdown, when the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, issued notification dated 04.05.2020 constituting the National Level Committee for Reforms in Criminal Laws to undertake a “review of criminal laws in India”. We must remember that at this juncture, the entire country was not only in the midst of a pandemic, but in fact a humanitarian crisis, where lakhs of migrant workers were forced to walk home hundreds of kilometres having been completely abandoned by the State. The pandemic followed by the imposition of an unplanned lockdown had destroyed lives and livelihoods. It was at this time, that the Ministry of Home Affairs took a decision to constitute a committee to undertake a complete overhaul of the criminal justice system, raising very serious concerns about the intent behind the same.

The acts of the Government must also be seen in the context of the manner in which the pandemic and the crisis in which the country is caught has been used by the Government to attempt to bring about several changes to the law which are against the interest of the people. The Government has rolled out a draft proposal to amend Environment Impact Assessment procedures, which was completely detrimental to the environment and vulnerable communities across the country. Similarly, several States have used this as an opportunity to suspend the operation of labour laws, the dilution of land ownership laws allowing for easy takeover of agricultural land by corporations, among other changes. This approach of the government has been appropriately characterized by what Naomi Klein calls the ‘shock doctrine’, where governments use ‘the public’s disorientation following a collective shock – wars, coups, terrorist attacks, market crashes or natural disasters – to push through radical pro-corporate measures, often called “shock therapy”.’ It is in this context that we need to see the real intent of the Committee that has been constituted, which rule out the possibility of any bona fide.

The second aspect which clearly points to the lack of bona fide in the committee, is the fact that it has been constituted by the Ministry of Homes Affairs. In fact, there is no information forthcoming of the Terms of Reference and Objective of the MHA in forming such a committee. Law reform is the work of the Law Commission, and yet the Ministry of Home Affairs has hand-picked and constituted this Committee to perform the mammoth task of reviewing the entire criminal justice system. This government has during this pandemic, habitually and selectively invoked special draconian laws such as the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and the National Security Act against peaceful protestors to stifle the

fundamental freedoms of citizens. This speak volumes of what the real intent of a committee hand-picked by the Ministry of Home Affairs would do.

The Committee so constituted is all-male committee, dominated by members of the dominant class and castes, and Delhi-based. There are no women, Dalits, Muslims, Adivasis, LGBTQ persons, working class representatives or differently-abled person on the Committee- all of whom are very often on the receiving end of the criminal justice system, and have been the ones seeking law reforms. There is also no representative from any other part of the country and is an insult to the diversity of our country and our federal structure and highlights the discrimination of other states, especially from the North East and the South. It is an absolute shame that in the 21st century a committee that looks to overhaul law reforms is constituted in this manner.

The scale of what this committee is attempting to do is unmatched by any law reform process at any time either before or after the Constitution of India came into force. Yet, the Committee is to complete this process of reviewing the entire criminal law within a period of six months. This is nothing but a mockery of a process. A letter submitted by several judges and lawyers to the Committee has outlined how criminal law evolved and developed “over 900 years of common law and almost hundred and fifty years of established jurisprudence” and now this Committee seeking torehaul the same within a period of six months is ludicrous. Any bonafide approach would be a long-drawn out process involving all sections of society and all regions of the nation.

It must be noted that information of the Committee has not been put in the public domain, except on its own website. People are simply not aware of the functioning of such committee and there has been no effort to ensure that people across the country, both part of the legal fraternity and outside of it, are informed of such process being underway.

The Committee is seeking that a questionnaire be answered on its website be answered. However this questionnaire is designed in a manner that betrays its lack of serious study or involvement with the law. There is no reason forthcoming as to why particular questions have been put out, which provisions of the law there is an intent to “reform” and the objective of the same. In fact even these questionnaires are not put up on the website and are only given after persons register on the website. The Committee only seeks to consult with lawyers and “experts” and only in

English through its website also, completely negating the necessity of every citizen to engage with any process that looks to fundamentally change the legal landscape. The attempt of the committee in allowing for participation only online shows its elite and exclusive nature, which deprives to millions of people who have no internet access any opportunity to participate.

There can be no doubt that criminal law requires reform, be it in the repeal of laws that curtail freedom of speech like sedition or in removal of the exclusion of marital rape. However, the Committee for Reforms set up by the MHA does not indicate as to the possibility of such reform. Instead, the process initiated for Reforms in Criminal Laws, right from its inception to the manner of its functioning is seeped in arbitrariness, undemocratic functioning and a lack of bona fide, and betrays intentions of demolishing core Constitutional values.

In this context, we seek that the Committee for Reforms in Criminal Laws constituted by the Ministry of Home Affairs be immediately disbanded.

Clifton D’ Rozario

Convenor

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