A letter has been addressed to Prof. (Dr.) Ranbir Singh, Chairperson of the Committee for Reforms in Criminal Laws, raising strong objections to the constitution and the processes employed by the Committee, including the “rushed timeline” proposed.
The letter has been penned by a group of lawyers, activists, social workers, counsellors, academicians, psychologists, policy consultants and other professionals working on child rights across the country.
“There is a stark absence of women members, members from the LGBTQ community, members belonging to religious minorities, members belonging to the SC/ST groups, and persons with disabilities, to name a few,” the letter pointed.
They also contest the Inadequate Time-frame provided to the stakeholders to respond to all questions/ issues.
“We find it irresponsible that the 160 year old criminal laws of this country are proposed to be drastically altered within a period of only six months…We find it difficult to understand how it would be possible to engage with the breadth of issues in the current criminal laws that impact vast groups, in such a short period of time and that too with consideration of inputs from various stakeholders, including children,” they contest.
The letter sought:
1) View child welfare in contiguity with other indicators of immediate concern such as poverty, homelessness, displacement, bonded labor etc.
“Pushing through criminal reform in legislation on the basis of opinions sought around a limited & inadequate questionnaire when basic safeguards and welfare are being attacked, shows no inclination to meaningfully making reforms to address societal issues but only in managing it,” it suggests.
2) Publish Terms of Reference of the Committee and all submissions made to it as well as Committee’s reasoned responses
“The ‘Expert Consultations’ and ‘Open Consultations’ cannot be fully democratic and transparent processes unless the Terms of Reference of the Committee and all submissions (expert and non expert) made to the Committee as well as the reasoned responses of the Committee are made public on the website. The reasons behind the decision to forgo historically standard practices of law reform such as setting up of law commissions under the Union Ministry of Law and conducting national consultations in favor of the current Committee and process must also be made clear,” the group has urged.
The five-member Committee for criminal laws reforms was constituted by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs vide Notification 1-2-19 Judicial Cell (Part I) dated 4-5-2020, to recommend criminal reforms in India. It comprises three professors from National Law University, Delhi, including the Chairperson and the Convenor.
The composition of the Committee for criminal laws reforms is as follows:
Prof. (Dr.) Ranbir Singh (Chairperson), Vice-Chancellor, National Law University Delhi
Prof. (Dr.) G.S. Bajpai (Member & Convenor), Registrar, National Law University Delhi
Prof. (Dr.) Balraj Chauhan (Member), Professor, National Law University Delhi
Mr. Mahesh Jethmalani (Member), Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India
Mr. G.P. Thareja (Member), Former District & Session Judge, Delhi
Responding to the letter, the Committee for criminal laws reforms had issued a Public Notice specifying its intention to indulge in an “open, transparent and fair” discussion on the proposed criminal reforms in India.
“Since its establishment, the Committee has been inclined to be open, transparent and fair in its working. We fully respect all the opinions and suggestion made to us. The structural part of it .e.g. composition- lies with the M.H.A. but for its functional part we are completely autonomous and willing to respect the suggestions,” the Committee had clarified.