ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Criminal Laws and Civil Rights

In the past few weeks, constitution benches of the Supreme Court have struck down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) (Navtej Singh Johar and Ors v Union of India 2018) and Section 497 of the IPC (Joseph Shine v Union of India 2018), partly upheld the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016 and partly struck it down (K S Puttaswamy v Union of India 2018), and held that the rules in Kerala which prevented women from entering the Ayyappa temple at Sabarimala were unconstitutional (Indian Young Lawyers Association v State of Kerala 2018). These are important judgments that have tangibly advanced the cause of women’s rights, LGBTQ (Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) rights, and the right to privacy, even if these are baby steps in relation to the larger causes. However, it would be a mistake to assume that these are the only kinds of cases that advance or diminish important civil and political rights in India. Less discussed are those judgments where the Supreme Court is interpreting criminal laws: the all-important trifecta of the IPC, the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), 1973, and the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.

Even though their origins lie in colonial rule, they do contain valuable legal rights for an accused in a trial and those facing state action. To the modern observer, it may seem odd that the Constitution of India does not explicitly enshrine some of the most important rights of an accused in a criminal trial: the right to be represented by a lawyer, the non-admissibility of extrajudicial confessions, the right to be confronted with charges, and the right to cross-examine witnesses or lead evidence. Rather, the rights guaranteed under Article 20 of the Constitution were already provided for in the then Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898, the Indian Evidence Act, and in English common law as applied to India.

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Updated On : 19th Oct, 2018

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