Parliamentary panel seeks robust safeguards while using technology in legal process

Parliamentary panel seeks robust safeguards while using technology in legal process

New Delhi, Nov 23 (PTI) A parliamentary panel, which examined the three proposed criminal laws, has hailed the move to enhance the use of technology in legal proceedings but said the adoption of electronic means for communication and trials should proceed only after the establishment of robust safeguards.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs, headed by BJP MP Brij Lal, also said enabling online or electronic FIR registration is a positive step forward but these should be allowed only through modes specified by the state.

'The committee notes that the Sanhita provides for acceptance of trials in electronic mode as provided in 'Clause 532' wherein all trials, inquiries, and proceedings may be held in electronic mode by production of electronic communication devices, likely to contain digital evidence, for investigation, inquiry, or trial,' the panel noted.

'Electronic communication includes communication through devices such as mobiles, computers, or telephone. The committee notes the enhanced technological integration in the Sanhita, emphasising increased utilisation of technology in legal proceedings, and considers it as a welcome change,' it said.

According to Clause 532 of the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita, 'all trials, inquires and proceedings under this Code -- including summons and warrant, issuance, service and execution thereof; holding of inquiry; examination of complainant and witnesses; trial before a court of session, trial in warrant cases, trial in summons-cases, summary trials and plea bargaining; recording of evidence in inquiries and trials; trials before high courts; all appellate proceedings and such other proceedings, may be held in electronic mode, by use of electronic communication or use of audio-video electronic means'.

The committee observed that while the increased utilisation of technology offers numerous advantages, it also creates opportunities for manipulation and misuse.

The collection and storage of electronic evidence raise concerns about data security and the possibility of unauthorised access or breaches, the panel said.

'The committee, therefore, recommends that the adoption of electronic means for communication and trials should proceed only after the establishment of robust safeguards to ensure the secure usage and authentication of electronically available data.

'This will help safeguard the integrity of the justice system and ensure that justice is administered fairly and accurately,' it said.

The panel said allowing any form of electronic communication for FIR registration can create logistical and technical challenges for law enforcement.

Moreover, it could become difficult to track all the FIRs filed, especially if, for example, sending an SMS to any police officer is considered as providing information within the scope of Clause 173.

According to Clause 173 of the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita, 'Every information relating to the commission of a cognisable offence, irrespective of the area where the offence is committed may be given orally or by electronic communication.

'And if given to an officer in charge of a police station, orally, it shall be reduced to writing by him or under his direction, and be read over to the informant; and every such information, whether given in writing or reduced to writing as aforesaid, shall be signed by the person giving it; by electronic communication, it shall be taken on record by him on being signed within three days by the person giving it...' it said.

As the Sanhita stands out by introducing the formal adoption of audio-visual and electronic means to undertake various processes, the Committee feels that a proviso may be added to Clause 266 to facilitate the recording of evidence for defence through audio-video electronic mode as well.

'However, the committee also feels that to avoid the possibility of tutoring or intimidation of witnesses, such recording should only be allowed at select government places,' it said.

'The committee, therefore, recommends that an appropriate proviso may be inserted to the clause for facilitating audio-video recording of evidence of defence, after ensuring proper safeguards,' it added.

The Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita (BNSS-2023) bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha on August 11 along with the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS-2023) and the Bharatiya Sakshya Adhiniyam (BSA-2023) bills. The three proposed laws seek to replace the Code of Criminal Procedure Act, 1898, the Indian Penal Code, 1860, and the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, respectively. PTI ACB RHL

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