Panel for criminal law reforms lacks diversity, say legal experts

Judges, lawyers and academicians, in a letter, suggest including more experts in the committee

July 08, 2020 10:38 pm | Updated July 09, 2020 02:35 am IST - NEW DELHI

Image for representation purpose only.

Image for representation purpose only.

Supreme Court and High Court judges, senior lawyers and academicians said a committee constituted by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs to introduce reforms in criminal law lacks diversity and it needs to ensure transparency.

A letter from them to the Committee chairperson and National Law University-Delhi vice-chancellor, Dr. Ranbir Singh, said the line-up of its members “lacks diversity, both in terms of the social identity of the members, as well as their professional background and experience.”

The signatories include former apex court judges like Aftab Alam, Madan B. Lokur and Gopala Gowda, senior advocates Dinesh Mathur, Indira Jaising, Navroz Seervai, C.U. Singh, Rebecca John, Dayan Krishnan, Sanjay R. Hegde and Sanjay Parikh, academic Dr. Vijay Raghavan and former bureaucrats like M.G. Devsahayam and S.P. Ambrose.

“Include more expertise and diversity. Create sub-committees with outside experts and other consultants with established track records in the field of criminal justice who can redress the lack of diversity and experience in the Committee’s current composition,” they advised.

The letter said the committee should make public the MHA notification constituting it. It should also upload on its website the terms of reference. The committee should clarify whether or not it is working independently of the MHA.

“Specifically, will the report of the committee be finalized in consultation with, or after the approval of the MHA or any other ministry?” said the 69 signatories.

Online consultation

The committee has invited expert opinions and has begun an online consultation exercise from July 4. It will collate the views and materials for its report to the government. Questionnaires have been posted online for responses on the possible reforms in the Indian Penal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure and Indian Evidence Act.

Besides the chairperson, the committee comprises Dr. G.S. Bajpai, Member & Convenor, Registrar, NLU Delhi; Prof. (Dr.) Balraj Chauhan, Member, Vice Chancellor, DNLU Jabalpur; Mr. Mahesh Jethmalani, Member, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India; and Mr. G.P. Thareja, Member, former District and Sessions Judge Delhi.

The letter highlighted that the committee’s report would decide the trajectory of the criminal law system in the country. “The committee should provide for meaningful public engagement.”

Full-time members

However, the letter pointed out that, unlike previous committees that had been assigned reforms of such magnitude, this one did not even have full-time members. “The members continue to discharge their full professional commitments alongside their work on this Committee. This, despite the fact that the 22nd Law Commission of India, which has the mandate to recommend law reform, has already been constituted, though it remains unstaffed,” it said.

The letter said it was imperative for the committee to engage with a wide range of stakeholders in the criminal justice system in a meaningful, substantive, and transparent manner.

“We call upon the committee to demonstrate its bonafides and its commitment to a rigorous law reform exercise by ensuring full transparency regarding its constitution and its functioning,” it said.

The signatories suggested that all the responses received by the committee should be made publicly available on its website.

In a public notice issued late on Wednesday, the Committee clarified that its structure part, i.e. composition, lies with the MHA but its functional part, the committee is autonomous and willing to take all suggestions made to it. It also expressed willingness to make questionnaire in various regional languages.

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