‘Take social offences out of criminal law’

3 Aug

A home Ministry-appointed committee has asked the government to decriminalise social offences like campus indiscipline and minor marriage offences and hold summary trials for other minor offences to enable the over-burdened criminal justice system stand straight on its feet.

In one stroke, this would reduce the number of cases out of the formal criminal justice system by nearly 40 per cent, said Professor RN Madhava Menon, chairman of the committee tasked to formulate a policy paper for the national policy on criminal justice.

“Minor marriage offences, which are more of civil in nature, can well be part of social welfare offences,” the report, handed over to the Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil on Wednesday, said. Offences classified under this code should be entrusted to agencies other than the police; reparation should be the objective rather than punishment.

The committee had toyed with the idea of identifying adultery as one offence that could be struck out from the Indian Penal Code six months ago. Menon hinted there was no unanimity on this count. Mohan Dayal Rijhwani, a Mumbai-based lawyer who was on the panel, had spoken out against adultery remaining on the statute as an offence at the committee deliberations.

“It is for the lawmakers to decide which of the existing offences should be so changed and when,” the report said.

India has a controversial adultery law that lays down a five-year jail term for men; women, however, are not punished. A suggestion to treat men and women at par several months ago had run into opposition from bodies like the National Commission for Women.

Sentencing guidelines

The committee has also supported the concept of federal offences to be investigated by a national agency and called for formulation of sentencing guidelines to ensure that judges have lesser discretion in sentencing jail terms for convicts.

Menon referred to the perception that actor Sanjay Dutt had been handed out a harsh sentence, saying this happened due to the absence of sentencing guidelines. For a similar offence committed under similar circumstances, Menon said it was possible that two judges sentence a convict to different periods. It is arbitrary, the committee acknowledged, suggesting that judges did not have any special expertise in determining the length of jail term. Other members in the committee included former secretary, internal security, in Home Ministry, Anil Chowdhury and Kamal Kumar, former director, National Police Academy.


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