In a thought-provoking lecture, Senior Advocate and former Delhi and Orissa High Court judge Justice Dr. S Muralidhar expressed skepticism regarding the purported decolonization and transformative impact of three new criminal laws recently enacted. Addressing the theme ‘Guilty Till Proved Innocent: Dark Areas of Criminal Jurisprudence’ at the Rakesh Endowment Lecture series for Justice and Equity, Justice Muralidhar highlighted persistent colonial-era provisions in Indian criminal law, challenging prevailing notions of legal reform post-independence.
Legal Analysis:
Dr. Muralidhar cautioned against overstating the transformative potential of the recent criminal law reforms, emphasizing the enduring influence of archaic statutes such as the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1908, still invoked to ban organizations. Despite 76 years of independence, Dr. Muralidhar noted, fundamental aspects of criminal law remain unchanged, signaling a need for deeper structural reforms.
Historical Context:
Drawing attention to the Defence of India Act of 1915 and subsequent preventive detention laws, Dr. Muralidhar underscored the continuity between colonial-era legislation and post-independence legal frameworks. He critiqued the pervasive use of preventive detention, originally conceived as a temporary measure during emergencies, which has become a routine practice, often unchallenged by the judiciary.
Human Rights Concerns:
Dr. Muralidhar highlighted the inadequacies of existing legal provisions in addressing contemporary human rights violations, citing the lack of compensation mechanisms for malicious prosecutions and wrongful arrests. He pointed to the retention of outdated provisions, such as Section 358 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which offers minimal compensation for wrongful arrest, in new legislation like the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS). Moreover, he lamented the failure of the new laws to address egregious human rights violations, including encounters, disappearances, and crimes against humanity.
Call for Action:
While acknowledging the limitations of existing legal frameworks, Dr. Muralidhar urged continued advocacy for meaningful reforms. He emphasized the importance of addressing systemic issues, advocating for comprehensive legal provisions that uphold human rights and ensure accountability for state-sponsored violence and injustice.
In his incisive critique of Indian criminal jurisprudence, Justice S Muralidhar sounded a clarion call for decolonization, human rights protections, and meaningful legal reforms. By challenging prevailing narratives of legal transformation and advocating for substantive changes to address systemic injustices, Dr. Muralidhar reaffirmed the indispensable role of the judiciary and civil society in advancing justice and equity in India’s legal landscape.

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