Criminal Justice System in India

Posted On : October 31, 2022
Criminal Justice System in India
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CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM……. Ordinary imagination starts with a Saurabh Shukla like judge in the court, a sad accused behind the bars, and probably a superman-like defence lawyer bearing the burden of freedom of such accused. Or….jumping off the cliff to the other side of the imagination, a victim of a serious offence lying in the dark, while a Singham like police official brings the light dragging the criminal with his collar. Movies or imagination bring into light only the icing part, while actually, the Indian system of law and order is a full fledged cake explored below.


Criminal Justice System Meaning

Crime stands for an act or omission (not doing what was ought to be done) which has been declared illegal.

Justice means fair or reasonable treatment.


Coming back to the criminal justice system in India, it can be summed up as the whole system responsible for controlling and punishing criminal activities. Various government as well as private authorities play an active part as criminal justice system functionaries. The whole justice system is too wide which includes civil, criminal, and a variety of sub-laws underneath. Among the various pointers, the main difference between criminal law and civil law is that the former aims at punishing the wrongdoer, while the latter focuses on bringing relief for the person at loss. One may explore the role of police in criminal justice system and other authorities hereunder. The 5 pillars of criminal justice system have been explained in detail to give a fair idea of all the major functionaries.

The aim of a particular system of law and order in India is to prevent crime in India, investigating the criminal activities and thereafter punishing those who commit crimes. In the criminal justice system, law and order is the primary objective to be taken care of while protecting rights of both - victims as well as the person accused of committing such crimes. The foundation of criminal justice lies with the ‘Principle of Natural Justice’.


Criminal Justice System Functionaries

When it comes to categorising the 3 major components of the criminal justice reform in India, it may not reflect the many functionaries actively participating in the process. The system practically involves Law Enforcement Officers, Corrections Officers, Probation and Parole Officers, Judges, Attorneys, Paralegals, Mental Health Professionals, and Paraprofessionals, etc. The role of police in criminal justice system goes on from the beginning with registration of FIR, till the chargesheet is filed, while timely producing the accused person before the court whenever required during the trial. Other criminal justice system functionaries also play their distinct roles.


3 Major Components of Criminal Justice System


The laws made by the legislature or the judiciary (through precedent) decide whether an act is legal or illegal. Anything which has been declared as an offence, even if morally correct, is punishable under the criminal justice system. Similarly, even if some act is morally degrading as per the society we live in, it is not punishable if the law does not provide so. Apart from classifying the criminal activities, their corresponding punishment, who is punishable, the corresponding authorities and their specific roles, everything is laid by the legislature. In case there is some inconsistency or confusion with what lawmakers have provided in the statutes, or if there is a lack of direct call with the matter, the judiciary may step in through specific guidelines, etc. via case laws. The major legislations on criminal justice system in India include the following:

-         Indian Penal Code, 1860

-         The Code of Criminal Procedure CrPC 1973

-         Indian Evidence Act, 1872

The most important among case laws by the apex court on criminal justice reform problems include D.K. Basu guidelines[1].


Since the acts or omissions are classified as crimes, there are authorities which come in motion once an offence is reported. Basically, these authorities enforce the laws made by legislature to establish who committed such crime, thereby bringing the law and order in transit. A first information report, commonly termed as an FIR, is lodged with the police by the victim, kins, or any person having the information of the crime, as the case may be. This instigates the role of police in criminal justice system.


Based on the seriousness of crime, prime suspects of the crime are arrested/ taken in police custody to make sure that the evidence is not tampered with. Here, rights of the accused person need to be protected by presenting him/ her before the court within 24 hours. Meanwhile, the police interrogation and investigation carry on and the case proceedings initiate before the court. Evidence collected related to such crime are all presented before the court, statements of people who witnessed the crime or are otherwise related, are all recorded by the police. All such evidence is confirmed before the judge in the court of suitable jurisdiction through prosecution and defence side of criminal lawyers. It is upto the judge to decide based on facts and applicable laws as to whether the accused person actually committed the crime or not. Based on the gravity of evidence against the accused, bail may also be granted by the court of suitable jurisdiction granting temporary freedom to the accused till the criminal proceedings wraps with a court decision. If he/she did commit the offence, the person is convicted and punished as per law, otherwise, the accused is set free. This decision of the lower court is challengeable in the district sessions court, state high court, or the supreme court, as the case may be.


  • Punishment/ Correction
  • The Indian Penal Code provides different types of punishments under IPC based on the seriousness of a crime committed. For example, if a group has brutally murdered a girl after gang rape, being totally aware of the outcome of their actions, the court may pronounce a death penalty. On the other hand, if a person by accident hits another from the stairs causing his/her death, the punishment may be 1 or 2 years of imprisonment, or only fine. The history of criminal legal system in India proves that it is more of correction rather than punitive criteria against the offender.

    While in prison, the inmates are indulged in several activities like education, vocational training, skill development, etc. The system of criminal justice in India, in theory, attempts to correct the convict so that he/ she does not repeat such criminal behaviour. However, things may not always be the same in practical terms. Also, the theory of ‘once a prisoner always a prisoner’ is not followed in India. Based on a person’s character and behavioural history, parole and probation are also allowed to give a break from imprisonment or reduce the period of imprisonment.


    5 Pillars of Criminal Justice System

    Investigating Agency

    The role of police in criminal legal system is the first thing that pops in mind when the term ‘investigating agency’ is heard. Police is for sure the most important link during investigation, but there are other players too. Whenever a crime takes place, people start searching for how to file a police complaint and what is the relevant piece of information related to the matter. Thereafter, police collect evidence and arrest the people named in case of serious offences. The evidence collected in criminal offences most of the time requires forensic confirmation. It may be blood stains, weapons, clothes, etc. Thus, forensic department is paramount among criminal justice system functionaries in India. Since it is a matter of investigation in criminal cases, complaint to the CBI, CID, NIA like special investigative agencies can not be ignored. A few decades back, prosecution was part of the police system, but now, it is among distinct 5 pillars of criminal justice system in India. 



    Criminal cases are usually fought by the state for the very reason that in the criminal justice system, law and order maintenance is the duty of the government. Committing a crime eventually stirs the calm waters of societal peace. Thus, a crime is usually committed against the state and not just a private person. Although classification exceptions are there - like Section 489A IPC which is committed against a married woman, cheque bounce which is committed against the lender/ creditor, etc.

    Prosecution is played by the government lawyer (Public Prosecutor in lower courts, Advocate General and other counsels in High Courts and Attorney/ Solicitor General and counsels in the apex court). The prosecution lawyer based on the evidence, examination and cross-examination, proves before the court the offence committed by the accused. In case of paucity of evidence against the accused, the prosecutor may request for withdrawal of accusations or seek inclusion of more witnesses, as legally deemed fit. The role of prosecution attorney wraps after court hearing comes to an end, whether it is trial court or the appellate courts.



    In India, the principle of natural justice allows decisions to be made after hearing both the parties (Audi Alteram Partem). Since the state’s machinery under the criminal proceedings is responsible for collection of evidence, interrogation, etc. all reflected in the chargesheet. Thus, a defence lawyer is the person who represents the accused person before the court when he/ she pleads not guilty (acknowledge before the authorities that he/ she did not commit the offence and wishes to fight for his/ her innocence). A criminal lawyer in Kolkata represents criminal cases in the lower courts of Kolkata as well as Kolkata High Court. Although, some of the Kolkata lawyers may also take up cases in other states or High Courts. 

    The role of defence lawyer in the criminal proceedings in India is utmostly crucial. While the burden of proof mostly lies with the prosecution to prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt, a defence lawyer has to find the loopholes in investigation, evidence, etc. The task is to prove before the court that the accused person has no relation with the crime committed. In case there is enough evidence of having committed such a crime by the accused, then the defence lawyer proves the lack of intention or knowledge. The objective is to get the accused’s name removed from the case, or at least bring the benefit of doubt.



    In the whole criminal case process, judges play a major role, since their opinion and understanding of the case leads to the final decision. The object of empowering the criminal justice system is to serve justice to the victims and punish the culprits. Evidence plays a key role in criminal matters. If there is a lack of essential evidence, a criminal may be released. But the worst happens if there is evidence on record against a person who is actually innocent, since that person will be caught under the clutches of the criminal system devoid of justice.

    Matters are brought before judges based on jurisdiction (decided on the basis of territory, extent of punishment in the offence reported, etc.). For example, for petty offences like cheque bounce, lower courts have original jurisdiction and sessions court hears appeals. While in case of offences like murder, rape, etc., sessions court has the original jurisdiction. The hon’ble High Courts and Supreme Courts have appellate jurisdiction unless some question of law is directly brought before higher courts.


    Prosecution and defence lawyers help judges reach out to the conclusion based on evidence available on record in the form of items, documents, or witnesses, as the case may be. While dealing with the facts, judges also need to make sure that the procedural law is being given due respect and nobody’s rights are being violated during the trial, be it the victim or the accused who is yet to be proven guilty.


    Prison Officials

    A person may be arrested just after registration of FIR, or after the trial comes to an end, depending upon the nature of offence, facts and evidence of the case. The ultimate place where such arrested persons are brought is prison. The prison administration is responsible for taking care of safety, security, health, daily needs, criminal records, etc. of the prisoners. Protection of prisoners is the bull’s eye for human rights lawyers. That is why jail administration is important among the 5 pillars of the criminal justice system in India.


    Rights of Accused Persons in Criminal Cases

    The essence of the System of Criminal Justice lies with the term ‘justice’. It may be being served to the victim, but there should not be any unjust treatment against the one who is being suspected to have committed such a crime. There is mention of rights of accused in Indian Constitution, 1950, as well as other statutes. Given below is the list of rights of accused in criminal prosecutions:


  • Right to Fair Trial
  • Right to be Heard
  • Right to Bail
  • Right against Wrongful Arrest
  • Right to Legal Aid
  • Right to Legal Representation
  • Right to Know the Charges
  • Right to be Produced before the Magistrate within 24 hours of Arrest
  • Benefit of Doubt
  • Right against Double Jeopardy
  • Right against Self-Incrimination
  • Right against Ex-Post Facto Laws
  • Right to Humane Treatment in Prison
  • Right against Solitary Confinement
  • Right of Innocent Treatment Until Proven Guilty

    Gist of the Discussion

    The blog above gives a clear glimpse of what constitutes the criminal justice system in India. However, this is what ought to be, while there is a lot of scope for correction and improvement in the existing practices. As per law, the human rights of accused persons need to be protected. But whether there actually exists human behaviour in prisons still remains a big question. Once a person attends criminal court proceedings, they encounter the brutality of the so-called criminal legal system whereby courts are over-burdened, police officials are drained, innocent accused are hopeless, and this misery has many more faces. The concerned authorities need to look into the criminal justice system problems on an urgent basis for the welfare of people in our country.


    [1] D.K.Basu vs. State of West Bengal (1997) AIR 1997 SC 610.

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