The Indian Penal Code – Is there a dire need for a complete Revision?

Author: S.Sujitha Student, School of Excellence in Law, Chennai


‘It usually takes 100 years to make a law, and then, after it’s done its work, it usually takes 100 years to be rid of it.” –  Henry Ward Beecher

As rightly pointed out by the American minister Henry W. Beecher, every single process in law is tedious. As it’s tedious, it can’t be neglected, the law must evolve with the changing needs of the society. One best example is Our Indian penal code which was the product of the 19th century. Since the time the legislation was codified, there have been a numerous changes in the society which urges an amendment in the law. It goes without saying that revamping our penal code will open a Pandora’s Box of debates. The fresh and novel challenges in the present society reiterate the need for the revamping of the century- old legislation to establish a balance between law and society.

Tracing the path

The Indian Penal Code, 1860 is the country’s criminal code. It specifies the types of actions that are regarded criminal, as well as their extent, character, and consequences and punishments. The Indian Penal Code is a comprehensive criminal code that includes all aspects of criminal law. Unlike the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), it merely specifies the different offences and their penalties, rather than the criminal procedure. The IPC covers the whole country of India. It is split into 23 chapters and has 511 parts. The goal of the IPC was to ensure that there were no discrepancies in criminal law across the country. It has been changed several times to accommodate the changes.

The Indian Penal Code was drafted in 1837 by Thomas Babington Macaulay, the head of the First Law Commission. The English Laws, as well as Napoleonic Code and Edward Livingston’s Louisiana Civil Code of 1825, were used to develop the concept. The draft of this was then carefully revised by Barnes Peacock, who went on to become the first Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court, and the future puisne judges of the Calcutta High Court, all of whom were members of the Legislative Council, before being signed into law on October 6, 1860. The IPC was amended by the Law Commission in its 42nd Report in 1971. Suggestions from the general public were encouraged, and some adjustments were implemented as a result. Various High Courts, Bar Associations, and other legal entities, as well as state governments, were issued a questionnaire. Every legal part was reviewed in order to identify any inconsistencies.

Questioning its efficacy  

As time passes, a legislation that was created centuries ago will undoubtedly require modifications. Although the Act may not have been ineffectual over time, its value may have dwindled. As a result, it is critical to change those laws, rules, regulations, or processes in order to restore the core of the current legislation. There are a variety of reasons why the law’s value has degraded over time. People’s attitudes toward those laws have shifted. Other laws are changed or introduced that eclipse the current ones. Non-acceptance of such laws is mainly due to a change in the character of the state. There are laws in place for concerns that have been repealed for a long time and are no longer present in society. The ineffectiveness of a legislation cannot be determined by its age, as even a newly enacted law may remain ineffective until and unless the citizens of the state are aware of and morally accept it.

Despite the fact that some modifications to the provisions of the IPC have been made by a  couple of court rulings, there remains a lot of lacunae that seek attention. The IPC is founded on the dominant deterrent theory at the time, but criminal law must move from a deterrent or distributive to a reformative philosophy of punishment. Some of the provisions that need modification are

Rape must be defined in a gender-neutral way. Men, third gender, and boys are not considered victims of rape under Section 375 of the IPC; only women are considered victims of rape. Next, the British introduced Sedition under Section 124 A of the IPC in 1898 to quell uprisings against them and repress independence movements. In recent years, however, this clause has been often exploited against people. Another such provision is section 57.The length of time spent in jail as a punishment is at the discretion of the court. It is largely dependent on the nature of the crime committed. However, the calculation of fractions of penalty is set for a period of 20 years. This takes away a judge’s discretionary power, and disagreements develop about how to administer sanctions. Also, the act of irritating someone by doing any obscene conduct in public places is punished under Section 294. The term “obscene” is not defined in the Act, and it is frequently abused by the police. The vagueness of the provision adds on difficulty to interpret and the probability for the abuse of the same. The penalties outlined in Chapter 3 are rather lenient. It only allows for incarceration or a fine. There is no mention of community service or any kind of rehabilitation for the offender.

Compatibility with the changing needs

Citizens are no longer treated as servants by the government, as they were in the past; instead, citizens have the most authority. The code’s fundamental policy is to safeguard individuals and avoid unequal punishment. Chain snatching, for example, is a serious crime that can result in death, yet the complaint is still filed under theft or robbery, and the amount of punishment given in proportion to the severity of the crime is insufficient, which has to be rectified. IPC has modified its provision from time to time as needed, but no comprehensive review has ever been conducted. There are a number of offences that need to be replaced with new ones, while others need to be abolished. Another issue to be addressed is the creation of new offences and the modification of current offence classifications. Cyber laws, for example, are relatively recent offences that have differed across the country. The law of sedition has become a contentious issue that has to be addressed with other rules and laws. Aside from that, inflation is at an all-time high, and the fine amount is far too low.

Suggestions

  1. The recommendations of the state should be taken into account. Legal scholars should also conduct surveys to determine which offences need to be introduced and which offences need to be changed.

  2. It is necessary to identify regulations that are outdated and no longer applicable in today’s world, and empirical study should be conducted in this regard. Problems with the provisions’ enforceability should also be investigated.

  3. In India, the rate of sexual offences is quite high. Despite the multiple modifications, the legislation contains numerous flaws. In light of this, a separate chapter devoted to the numerous sexual offences and their punishments might be developed.

  4. The chapters of the IPC can also be divided into three categories according on the severity of the liability: minor, moderate, and major. Separate chapters on cyber laws, economic offences, and other topics should be included to the IPC to minimize duplication and misunderstanding. The illustrations that were included with various parts are now completely obsolete by today’s standards. They were useful when case law was still being created, thus the necessity to replace them is critical.

  5. There should be no political biases in IPC, and it should not be biased in favour of any political party. It should balance and defend residents’ interests. It should support democratic values and an equitable legal system.

Conclusion

Our Indian Penal Code is without a doubt a complex piece of legislation that covers nearly every area of criminal law, rendering criminal justice. As this act governs India’s criminal justice system, as a result, it is critical that the act be devoid of inconsistencies. In its report from 2003, the Malimath Committee recommended a number of criminal changes that must be adopted in order to meet people’ expectations and adapt to the changing nature of crime. On inspecting with a looking glass on the main point, whether or not there is a need to change the Indian Penal Code, it must be thoroughly investigated by legal professionals in order to develop an opinion and take appropriate action so that justice is not jeopardized.

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