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UPSC Editorial Analysis

Issues and Challenges with Criminal Justice System in India

GS Paper 2 - Constitutional Amendments, Judiciary

Context 

The recent imprisonment and fine of a woman in Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh, for allegedly making a fake rape claim exposes serious systemic flaws in India’s criminal justice system.

The arbitrary and extended imprisonment of undertrials, insufficient police investigations, and poor operation of fast-track courts illustrate systemic flaws that weaken public trust in judicial systems. It emphasizes the urgent need for fundamental improvements to India’s criminal justice system.

Challenges with India’s Criminal Justice System

 

  • Pendency & Delays in Justice – The sheer volume of pending cases, more than 5.02 crore as of July 2023, produces a judicial logjam that paralyzes the process. Each delayed case demonstrates a failure of the system to provide prompt justice. In the Bareilly case, even a “fast-track” court took 1,559 days, nearly quadrupling the one-year timeline.  Such delays violate the right to speedy trial (as recognised by the Supreme Court as fundamental right under Article 21 in N.S Sahni v. Union of India).
  • Inadequate Resources and Infrastructure – India has only 21 judges per million people (as of December 2023). The shortage is more than simply a number; it results in overworked judges, rushed hearings, and compromised decisions.
  • Politicization of the Police Force – The Prakash Singh v. Union of India (2006) decision demanded the separation of investigative and law enforcement duties, although this has not occurred. The first investigation into the 2021 Lakhimpur Kheri violence case, in which a Union Minister’s son was suspected, was hampered by delays and claims of political meddling.
  • Bail is the exception, not the rule – Despite the Supreme Court’s direction in the Balchand alias Baliay case V. State of Rajasthan (1978) to make bail the rule and jail the exception, the situation has reversed. It is clear that more than 75% of India’s prison population is awaiting trial. The prisons are currently at 130% occupancy. Additionally, the burden of proof is moved to the accused under certain provisions, such as the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, worsening the issue of bail.
  • Gender Bias in Sexual Violence Cases – The Supreme Court denounced the use of victim-blaming language and gender stereotypes by judges in Aparna Bhat v. State of Madhya Pradesh (2021). Still, a judge at the Karnataka High Court’s remarks regarding a rape victim’s late-night employment revealed enduring gender prejudices that compromise the fairness of trials involving sexual assault.
  • Outdated Prison Manual and Mental Health Crisis – Mental health treatments are required under the 2016 Model Prison Manual. In Re-Inhuman Conditions in 1382 Prisons case, the Supreme Court noted high rates of mental illness among prisoners, exacerbated by overcrowding and lack of care.
  • Non-Implementation of Police Complaints Authority – The Supreme Court in Prakash Singh (2006) mandated Police Complaints Authorities (PCAs) to address public grievances against police.  However, most states either have not established PCAs or have made them toothless, perpetuating police impunity.
  • Human Rights Violations – The criminal justice system in India is frequently accused of extrajudicial executions, false arrests, torture in custody, and unauthorized detentions. In 2021–2022, 175 incidents of deaths while under police custody were recorded.

Measures to reform Criminal Justice System in India

  • Victim-Centric Justice System – A shift from a perpetrator-centric to a victim-centric justice system is necessary. Providing committed victim support services, such as guidance, assistance in obtaining legal aid, and victim impact statements with a right to a court hearing.
  • Artificial Intelligence for Case Management and Risk Assessment – This study investigates the application of AI to case management, scheduling, and risk assessment prior to trial. Processes can be streamlined, low-risk situations can be identified for diversion programs, and human resources can be freed up for more complicated cases.
  • Legal Aid with Performance-Based Funding – Increasing legal aid funding and putting in place a performance-based system for legal aid providers is known as “legal aid with performance-based funding.” This guarantees that defendants from underprivileged backgrounds receive high-quality legal aid and encourages competent representation.
  • Bail Reform and Reducing Undertrial incarceration – The Law Commission of India’s 268th Report (2017) recommended that immediate action be made to reduce the duration of incarceration and that, in order to do so, the bail laws need to be reviewed.
  • Comprehensive Victim and Witness Protection – In accordance with the Malimath Committee’s 2003 proposal, the Witness Protection Scheme, 2018, must be fully implemented with sufficient financing and supervision.
  • Gender Sensitization in the Judiciary – The Judiciary’s Gender Sensitization Initiative includes mandatory training for all judicial officers, the inclusion of gender perspectives in judicial education, and procedures to hold judges responsible for remarks they make that are biased against women.
  • Reforming Prison Administration – In accordance with the Justice Amitava Roy Committee’s recommendations, undertrials, convicted criminals, and first-time offenders must be required to be segregated in jails, even when they are attending court or visiting a hospital.
  • Revamping Fast-Track Courts – There is a need to remodel fast-track courts with specialized judges and enhanced infrastructure, as well as establish binding timeframes and implement case management systems to track and expedite cases.
  • Combating Political Criminalization – The Vohra Committee (1993) emphasized the importance of establishing an entity committed to combating political criminalization. This entity should be given the authority to gather intelligence from numerous sources, investigate the links between politicians, bureaucrats, criminals, and anti-social elements, and take decisive action against those responsible.

Way Forward


To address the challenges within India’s criminal justice system, a multifaceted approach is essential. Prioritizing the implementation of the Witness Protection Scheme and enhancing judicial infrastructure will reduce pendency. Integrating AI for case management, alongside bail reform, can alleviate undertrial congestion. Strengthening Police Complaints Authorities and ensuring gender sensitization within the judiciary are critical steps. Moreover, revamping fast-track courts with clear timelines and segregating undertrials will uphold justice. Collectively, these reforms will fortify trust in the system and uphold the rule of law.

SOURCE: The Hindu

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