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Legal Practice

How Will Criminal Justice Reform Impact Lawyers?

Prologue

If power corrupts, then absolute power corrupts absolutely. This age-old adage is used to describe the actions of power-hungry elements of the society going rogue.

There is no singular, all-encompassing definition of “law”, existing at present. What must be understood at the very onset is that, a law is essentially a set of guidelines that is in force in order to ensure order and method. It is the cane that is envisaged to keep errant individuals and organizations in place, and within the confines of what is, and/or what should be.

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Crime is an act forbidden by law. It may be often at war with the tenets of morality. The Indian Penal Code, 1860, however, does not define “crime”. It merely states that “offence” denotes something made punishable by the Code. One need not have to be a rocket scientist to deduce the importance of the well-oiled criminal justice machinery.  A good criminal justice reform system is capable of keeping criminals, wrong-doers, and offenders, inter alia, in check. This system would help preserve the aforementioned ideals of ‘order’ and ‘method’.

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The Demon in the Criminal Justice System

Humanity has persevered through numerous plagues, diseases, calamities, and disasters to reach where it is now. Nonetheless, we could not be any more lukewarm towards each other. Society is crumbling under the indomitable pressure of hatred and narcissism, as the bedrock or the very touchstone of morality on which society was, or is essentially formed, is forced to be rewritten with great alacrity.

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Beginning from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean, this world is seething with so much contempt. No other country incarcerates more citizens than a developed country such as the United States, which accounts for only 5% of the world’s population. Mass incarceration seems to be biased against the poor and destitute, as well as the people of color. This certainly does not instill any reassurance in the minds and lives of such people in particular. Moreover, it is often advocated that wealth and not culpability determines and dictates the outcome in the criminal justice system. This leads to the rich getting richer and the poor remaining poorer. Discrimination towards the marginalized often induces them to commit crimes. It contributes to a worldwide stigma on the basis of race, creed, and color.

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An Imperfect System

This world is not new to hate-crimes, or instances of police brutality. Of late, mass hysteria has caught the world in its pincer grip. There has been greater reporting of such hate-crimes against people of color, by the very enforcers of law—the police. The notable deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, in the USA, paint a grotesque and ludicrous picture.

India too has had its share of instances of police brutality and police misconduct. Most recently, in June 2020, the Tamil Nadu Police reportedly severely violated a father and son duo torturing and beating them to their deaths. During the furor owing to the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, the police unashamedly assaulted many protesting as well as non-protesting students.

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To be precise, the justice system is not perfect anywhere around the globe; and how could it be, while being a static system in a dynamic world—a world that is becoming increasingly borderless and transcendental. The criminal justice system is no different. Seldom have various governments across the world, revamped or re-engineered their justice system to meet the changing requirements of the world. Areas like data protection and privacy, crypto-currency, and social media do not have enough airtight legislation to combat the issues plaguing them.

Read Also – Article 30 of Indian Constitution

Need of the hour: Criminal Justice Reform

The laws of any country must always keep abreast with the changing facets of economic, legal, political, and social ideologies. Reforms to the criminal justice system would make the law far more inclusive. Reforms, by way of amendments to existing laws, or by the advent of newer laws, would assist in making the law in itself more sacrosanct. This would undoubtedly be a great arsenal at the disposal of lawyers and would be a major step in checking abuse of power. The more wholesome the law, the lesser would be the scope for any grey area, and unlike civil laws, criminal laws should always strive to ensure the minimalistic of grey within their purview. Most importantly, any and all laws must conform to a strict sense of morality and nurture the notions of social welfare.

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Role of Lawyers

Active litigation and advocacy alone can strive to defeat the evils of mass incarceration and racial discrimination. For if power can be corruptible, then absolute power is absolutely corruptible. Therefore the only way to fight against such power would be with power. Around the world, there are many common issues regarding which people are clamoring for reform, and they are:-

  • Wrongful convictions;
  • Excessive punishment;
  • Police brutality;
  • Prison conditions;
  • Juvenile justice

As the guardians of law, advocates are ethically and morally responsible to ensure that the law is used diligently.  Only then will the people will have access to a better form of justice. Of course, a society, where the very enforcers of the law run amok like an untamed bull will cower in fear, and clearly, that is no respectful way to live. Unfortunate though that it has come to this, it is the responsibility of the guardians of law to help mold and fashion the law in such a way so that it serves the welfare of the society as a whole and not just a select few.

Read Also – Powers of police under Code of Criminal Procedure

Inference

The rule of law, which insinuates supremacy of the law, should never imply discriminatory and/or unchecked exercise of the same. The impetus is on the lawyers, to advocate for rational policies and laws. Laws that ensure the safeguard of communities while vastly shrinking the prison population.  Rules that reduce the social and economic impact of mass incarceration on vulnerable communities are essential for the community. It is only by administering empathy through advocacy that this proverbial demon can be slain. Thus, the criminal justice reform system would surely be a welcome change for the betterment of the voiceless ones.

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by Biswaroop Mukherjee

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