‘Periodic spring-cleaning of statute law needed’

The Chairman of the 20th Law Commission of India, A.P. Shah, spoke to The Hindu on the efforts to weed out outdated laws, both past and present.

Published - September 07, 2014 01:26 am IST

The various Law Commissions have relentlessly worked at weeding out antiquated laws. What is the basic objective behind this exercise?

Every legislature is expected to undertake what may be called the periodic spring-cleaning of the corpus of its statute law in order that deadwood may be removed. Citizens will be spared the inconvenience of taking notice of laws which have ceased to bear any relevance to current conditions this way. The process assumes great importance when the statute law is growing in bulk and magnitude.

Please give us an overview of the work done by various Law Commissions in this field over the years?

The first Law Commission’s 18th and 81st reports recommended the repeal of particular colonial laws. The 18th report sought the repeal of Converts Marriage Dissolution Act. The 81st report sought the repeal of the Hindu Widows Remarriage Act. Then the 96th Report in 1984 sought the repeal of a substantial number of obsolete Central laws. In 1993, the Law Commission sought repeal of certain antiquated laws in its 148th report, and again in its 159th report in 1998. Out of the laws recommended to be repealed, 10 still exist.

Has the 20th Law Commission undertaken any new initiative to do away with dysfunctional laws?

The commission has undertaken a project titled the Legal Enactments Simplification and Streamlining (LESS) project. Its objective is to prepare various reports on the laws, rules, regulations which need to be repealed or amended.

In fact, the project goes beyond just identifying laws which are outdated; it aims to identify and recommend for repealing laws inconsistent with newer laws, Supreme Court judgments, international treaties and conventions signed or ratified by India. It also seeks to weed out laws that impose a heavy regulatory burden and whose costs outweigh their benefits.

We are aspiring to be an economic power — if so, we have to amend and update a number of laws such as maritime and insolvency laws which are over a century old.

There are 1,145 laws on the website of the Central government. The website is not updated. In fact, the commission discovered that 21 laws which had been repealed continue to be shown on the website. We have also recommended that the Appropriation Bills must be automatically repealed after its use.

What is the groundwork done by the 20th Law Commission so far?

The commission has organised all Central laws into subject areas — have titled these laws. We have completed the process of grouping them into 48 titles. This is a complex process of evolving the subjects.

This will bring a lot of clarity for the Ministries, bureaucrats, courts and the public. For instance, all labour laws can be in one group. This would help a person compare the changes in the latest laws from the earlier ones. The laws, once grouped, will be put up on the government websites, titled in an alphabetical order. This can help anyone find any law on any subject.

So far, the commission has identified 255 laws which are recommended for repeal by the earlier Law Commissions and by the P.C. Jain Commission. We have notified these 255 laws to all the Ministries concerned. The Law Ministry is taking a keen interest in this, and it has asked the departments to nominate nodal officers. These officers are to explain to the Law Commission why these statutes continue to exist.

Again, some of these 255 laws are pre-Independence statutes, which have now become State subjects. In such cases, the Central government will have to consult the State governments.

Outside these 255 laws, the Law Commission has identified more laws out of the 1145 which are potential candidates for repeal. The Law Commission will file a report soon with the law ministry.

When will the commission complete this task?

Updating statute law is a continuous task. We will complete the process of identifying obsolete laws in two months. The advance in IT has made our task manageable. The tough part is updating existing laws to make them fit for the modern day needs… that will take some time.

Other exercises being carried out to update obsolete laws?

Another exercise we are looking at is the comprehensive review of the criminal justice system, from policing to prisons.

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