Efficiency and Effectiveness of the Indian Criminal Justice System

Author: Rishika Jain, 2nd Year, B.Com LLB (H), Amity Law School, Amity University Rajasthan

“If the criminal law as a whole is the Cinderella of jurisprudence, then the law of sentencing is Cinderella’s, illegitimate baby.”                                                                 

      -Nigel Walker


When the issue of criminal justice system comes up, it is impossible to imagine a world without proper criminal laws to regulate the conduct of crimes. Thus a uniform system is the dire need of any nation for that matter to have a uniform system for punishing the offenders. The Indian Criminal Justice System is derived from the British model.[1] There is a clear demarcation of the role and powers and functions of the Legislature, Executive, and Judiciary. The judiciary enjoys an independent position in the government. The penal philosophy in India has accepted the concepts of prevention of crime and treatment and rehabilitation of criminals, which have been reiterated by many judgments of the Supreme Court.[2] The full responsibility to prosecute and punish the offenders is undertaken by the State. The criminal law is set into motion by registration of the First Information Report (FIR). Section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (hereinafter referred to as Cr.P.C.), provides information in cognizable cases and effect registration of First Information Reports. Victims have no rights under the criminal justice system and are treated as mere witnesses. The accused is presumed to be innocent and the burden is on the prosecution to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that he is guilty. One who is put on trial also enjoys the right to silence and cannot be compelled to reply. This right is guaranteed by the Constitution of India as fundamental right[3] and also a universally recognised right of the accused under Article 14 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights.  

Rights of Victims not Recognized under the Indian Criminal Justice System:

When we talk about the nature of the Criminal Justice System, we find that in most of the jurisdictions, crime is considered to be an offence against society. It is also considered that criminal liability imports stronger moral culpability than other forms of legal liability. Hence, crimes are distinguished from other unlawful acts by virtue of their public character. This implies that society is the victim of such a crime and it is the duty of the society to restore the balance disturbed by the commission of the crime. Hence, the State, and not the actual victims, has the responsibility to prosecute offenders[4] but when it comes to trial the burden of proof shifts on the victim in all criminal offences except for dowry and many times the judiciary fails to protect the rights of the victim. Right to fair trial, proof beyond reasonable doubt, right of the accused to be informed of charges before trial and the right to present a defence among others-have all been developed through common law principles that have been codified in our Constitution and subsequently reinforced by the higher judiciary. This continuing emphasis on the rights of the accused is a natural feature of any liberal democracy where the individual is given protection against the criminal law machinery controlled by the State. There is no provision in the Cr.P.C. for providing legal aid to the victim of a crime. Legal aid is available only to the accused.[5]

If the punishment imposed for committing a crime is unjust and disproportionate then the judicial system of our nation will be subject to contempt and ridicule. The Indian Criminal Justice System increasingly reflects the idea of “power” rather than “justice”.[6]  The promise of criminal law acts as an instrument of safety and guarantees that due processes were accordingly incorporated in the criminal procedure so that every accused person gets a fair trial. Indian statutes and judicial precedents provide for sentencing mechanisms nevertheless, we currently lack a formal framework of standardized sentencing guidelines. In the United States, a growing number of states have modified their constitution to respect the interests of crime victims.[7] The Presidential Task Force in 1982 stated that “victims of crime are entitled to certain basic rights, including but not limited to the right to be informed, to be present and to be heard at all critical stages of the federal and state criminal justice process to the extent that these rights do not interfere with existing constitutional rights”.

Drawbacks of the Indian Criminal Justice System:

The major drawback of our system is that the system is heavily loaded in favour of the accused and turns a blind eye and acts as severely insensitive to the victims’ plight and rights. Many cases go unreported and do not undergo trial because of the same reason. This chronic problem of the “under-reporting” of crimes is not merely a result of corruption at the grass- root level. It has been reasoned that at the level of a police station, the personnel has an interest in recording low crime rates in their respective area, since that is the basis of their evaluation by superiors. Police reforms have not taken place despite the directives in the Prakash Singh case.[8] If the victim has an unskilled or overworked attorney it can lead to great injustice. The delay in matters has, in recent times, created agitation, anxiety and unrest in the minds of the people.  Our system fails to accurately resolve complex technical issues such as science, technology or tax or accounting regulations. Too much insistence on procedure may lead to unnecessary delay and that is the reason justice delayed results into justice denied. When we discuss the role of the victim then we observe that, victim acts as a mere witness as he/she doesn’t have any place under the entire procedure of the Criminal Justice System.

Need for Reforms:

In 2003, the Committee on Reforms of the Criminal Justice System headed by Justice Malimath outlined the need for sentencing rules to reduce ambiguity in the award of sentences.[9] In Narinder Singh v. State of Punjab[10], the Apex Court stressed upon the need of sentencing guidelines and considered the provisions in other countries regarding sentencing, which could be incorporated by legislature in India to oust the existing non-uniformity and ambiguity. Despite the absence of any special legislation to render justice to victims in India, the Supreme Court has taken a proactive role and resorted to affirmative action to protect the rights of victims of crime and abuse of power. The court has adopted the concept of restorative justice and awarded compensation or restitution or enhanced the amount of compensation to victims, beginning from the 1980s.[11]

An effective Criminal Justice System requires the strong coordination between the law enforcement agencies particularly the police and the Courts apart from the correctional institutions which happen to be an integral part of the Criminal Justice System. The Police in India have an absence of proper knowledge of international norms due to which it continues to protest against human rights standards in dealing with criminals. The UN Human Rights Committee, in many reports, has said that “encounters are murders”. The fundamental right — the right to live with human dignity is highly violated when someone is killed in an encounter. Many a times these killings are bogus and are orchestrated in a way that it is difficult to conclusively prove them wrong. Encounters cannot take place without the prior consent of a higher authority, be it either administrative or ministerial but these killings are wrong as a whole. Encounters have indeed become the common phenomenon of our Criminal Justice System and there are police officers who covet the title “encounter specialists”.


Indian trial is ineffective and slow. Coupled with the deficiency of the Indian Criminal Justice System is the lack of consistency in the sentencing process even by the Supreme Court. In the last 16 years only, eight executions have taken place, one was guilty of raping and then murdering a minor, one was responsible for the 26/11 attacks, one was responsible for the attack on the parliament in 2001, one was proven guilty for raging Mumbai in serial bomb blasts and the rest four were the gang rape offenders of the Nirbhaya rape case[12] but there have been more than 1500 sentences given but only 8 of them have been executed. The death penalty rules are weighted in favour of convicts and hence delay the whole procedure of delivering justice.

India needs to draft a clear policy that should inform the changes to be envisaged in Criminal Laws. Simultaneous improvements are needed in the police, prosecution, and judiciary and in prisons otherwise all the reforms will be in vain. Compassing the diverse views of reformative, deterrent and retributive theories of punishment. Owing to the impossibility of law to anticipate the exactness of the punishment, the judges have been vested with greater flexibility for using their discretion. Crimes, if left unpunished raises a question on the inconsistency of the Criminal Justice System. Our policymakers need to focus on reformativejustice to bring all-around peace in society.

[1] Criminal Law Act, 1977, United Kingdom.

[2] Kumaravelu Chockalingam, Measures for crime victims in the indian criminal justice system, https://www.unafei.or.jp/publications/pdf/RS_No81/No81_11VE_Chockalingam.pdf.

[3] INDIA CONST. art. 20, cl. 3.

[4] Edwards I., The Place of Victims Preferences in the Sentencing of their Offenders, Criminal Law Review, p. 699 (2002).

[5] Section 304 of Cr.P.C.

[6] Faizan Mustafa, A growing blot on the Criminal Justice System, (DEC 10, 2019 12:02 am), https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/a-growing-blot-on-the-criminal-justice-system/article30259835.ece.

[7] United Nations General Assembly, Handbook on Justice for Victim, https://www.unodc.org/pdf/criminal_justice/UNODC_Handbook_on_Justice_for_victims.pdf.

[8] Prakash Singh v. Union of India, (2006) 8 SCC 1.

[9] Government of India, Ministry of Home Affairs, Committee on Reforms of Criminal Justice System Report, (May 2, 2020), http://www.mha.nic.in/hindi/sites/upload_files/mhahindi/files/pdf/criminal_justice_ system.pdf.

[10] (2014) 6 SCC 466.

[11] Sukhdev Singh v. State of Punjab, (1982) SCC (Cr) 467.

[12] Mukesh v. State (NCT of Delhi), (2017) 6 SCC 1.

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