Criminal law revamp: How the large-scale changes will impact common citizens 

The proposed changes in the criminal justice system have a lot of good, pro-citizen provisions. At the same time, some niggling issues remain, that could probably be ironed out by the Parliamentary Standing Committee. 

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The Union Government introduced three bills in parliament to revamp criminal laws in India. (Photo:AFP)

The Centre, in a surprise twist at the end of the Monsoon Session of Parliament on Friday, completely revamped and replaced three historical laws that were the backbone of the criminal justice system in India.

The Indian Penal Code (IPC), the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), and the Indian Evidence Act (IEA) all stand to be replaced with new laws.

Here are the key changes in the proposed laws that are likely to impact the common citizens of the country.


  1. ZERO FIRs: The new law allows for registration of a First Information Report (FIR) in any police station, irrespective of where the crime is committed. The FIR must, however, be registered in the same State or Union Territory. The proposed law also allows citizens to file e-FIRs, where the complainant must sign on the FIR within three days of filing it online.
  2. SAFEGUARD FROM ARREST: The new law provides a new safeguard from arrest for those accused of petty offences, or those who are infirm, or over 60 years of age. For offences that attract a punishment of less than three years, no arrest can be made without the prior permission of an officer not below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP).
  3. GREATER POLICE ACCOUNTABILITY: With the law allowing filing of zero FIRs in any police station, the police will have to maintain a proper system of sharing information via establishment of a police control room (PCR). The state government will have to designate a police officer in every district and every police station who shall be responsible for maintaining the information regarding the arrest of a person. The police are also bound to provide information to any victim about the progress of investigation in their case within 90 days. The chargesheet in the case must be filed within 90 days (courts have the option to extend this time-limit by another 90 days) and the probe in the case must conclude within 180 days. Additionally, the designated police officer in every district will be responsible for informing the family members of any person who has been placed under arrest.
  4. SPEEDY JUSTICE: Once the chargesheet is filed by the police, the court has a 60-day window to frame the charges in the case and begin the trial. Once the trial in the case is completed, the judge is duty-bound to pronounce the verdict within 30 days, and thereafter the judgment copy must be uploaded online within 7 days. In certain cases, the time for the judgment may extend up to 60 days.
  5. CURBS ON POLICE POWER: The proposed law mandates complete video recording of any search or seizure being conducted by the police in the interest of fairness of the investigation. This recording must be forwarded to the district magistrate, sub-divisional magistrate or judicial magistrate of first class. The law also criminalises the use of torture by the police to extract confessions, though this comes with several riders.
  6. RELEASE OF UNDERTRIALS IN JAILS: The proposed law also aims to decongest Indian jails by allowing automatic bail to undertrials who have already served more than half of their maximum sentence. First-time offenders will be eligible for bail once they have completed one-third of their sentence, while the trial is still pending. The Prison Superintendent is duty bound to ensure that an application is made before the court for release of such prisoners.
  7. HIT-AND-RUN WILL GET YOU 10 YRS JAIL TERM: The punishment for hit-and-run cases resulting in death has been enhanced to 10 years if the accused does not report the incident to the police or a magistrate. Some other common offences like snatching to also attract more stringent action if it leads to severe injury of any kind.
  8. SUMMARY TRIALS FOR SPEEDY JUSTICE: The new Bill allows for summary trials to be conducted in cases of petty offences. Any offence that attracts a jail term of less than three years would count as a petty offence. The entire summary trial can be conducted via virtual mode.
  9. NO MORE FREQUENT ADJOURNMENTS: To put an end to the culture of frequent adjournments, the proposed law limits the number of times a lawyer can seek an adjournment in a case to two. Presence of a lawyer in another court (the most common reason cited by lawyers seeking an adjournment) cannot be a ground for delaying proceedings.
  10. WITNESS PROTECTION: The proposed law provides for a much-needed witness protection programme, under which the state government is required to formulate a scheme to protect witnesses in sensitive cases.
  11. COMMUNITY SERVICE AS A FORM OF PUNISHMENT:For petty offences like theft, trespass, breach of peace, etc., the court can now award community service as a form of punishment. This will also help in decongesting overcrowded jails.
  12. WOMEN-FRIENDLY CHANGES: Not only do the new bills propose more stringent punishments in cases of rape and gang rape, they also attempt to ease the legal process for survivors of sexual assault. The statement of a sexual assault survivor would now be recorded in her home, by a woman magistrate in the presence of a woman police officer. Her parents or family may remain present with her. The law also makes it an offence for anyone to disclose the identity of a survivor of sexual assault.
  13. RIGHT TO PRIVATE DEFENCE: The proposed law allows a new provision under the right to private defence against deadly assault by a person or group of persons.
  14. COMPLETE DIGITISATION OF CASE DOCUMENTS:All documents related to a case from the FIR to the chargesheet and court orders will all be available in a digital form to the parties involved in a case.


  1. CHANGES IN LAW ON POLICE CUSTODY: As the law stands currently, any person who has been arrested can be sent to police custody only for a maximum of 15 days from the date of arrest. In the proposed law, however, the powers of the police to seek police custody have been expanded, where the police can now seek this 15-day custody at any time within 60-90 days of the arrest, depending on the offence.
  2. BAIL NOT THE RULE, JAIL STILL NOT THE EXCEPTION: There is no relief for a common man when it comes to grant of bail and enforcing the ‘bail is the rule, and jail an exception’ through means of a proper law. No new option for default bail has been given, except for undertrials who have served at least half their sentence.
  3. TRIAL IN ABSENCE OF AN ACCUSED: A person accused of a crime, and who may be absent or absconding, can be convicted and sentenced, on the presumption that he has waived his right to a fair trial. The new law allows the court to proceed with the trial if 90 days have elapsed since framing of the charges and the accused has still not appeared before the court.
  4. SEIZURE OF DIGITAL, ELECTRONIC EVIDENCE: The new law explicitly allows digital devices such as phones, laptops, etc. to be seized during an investigation. At the same time, with changes in the Evidence Act, electronic and digital records can be submitted as evidence before a court, giving it the same legal effect as physical evidence in the form of documents. Emails, messages, server logs, location details etc., will all be included as part of electronic evidence, admissible in a court of law.
  5. ‘PROCEEDS OF CRIME’ UNDER AMBIT OF IPC: A new addition in the Bill gives a police officer the power to attach any property he deems to be “proceeds of crime”. The police officer can attach properties that he has a reason to believe have been obtained directly or indirectly as a result of a criminal activity.
Edited By:
Sudeep Lavania
Published On:
Aug 12, 2023