The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2018 received presidential assent on August 11. It was passed in the monsoon session of the parliament to replace the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance promulgated in the aftermath of bone-chilling Kathua and Unnao rape cases. Prima facie, the intent of the legislature is to provide for stringent punishment in offences against women in general and rape in particular. Moreover, the Bill envisages an efficient justice dispensation mechanism to ensure that the ends of justice are met in an expedient manner.
The amendment has introduced death penalty for rape of a child below 12 years and has enhanced quantum of punishment prescribed for the offence. A comparison between Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code in its earlier form and after the amendment can be drawn in the light of three age groups.
- Below 12 years –For rape, minimum imprisonment has been increased from 10 years to 20 years and the maximum punishment to sentence of death or life imprisonment.
For gang rape, minimum imprisonment has been increased from 20 years to life sentence.
- Below 16 years – Minimum sentence has been raised from 10 years to 20 years and from gang rape from 20 years to life imprisonment.
- Above 16 years – The minimum imprisonment has been enhanced from 7 years to 10 years.
The Act envisages a justice delivery system which is efficient, expeditious and facilitative for the rape victim and therefore amendments have been made in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC), Indian Penal Code,1860 and Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act,2012 (POSCO). After the amendment, an investigation into the rape of a girl child will have to be completed within two months. It has also provided for a six-month time limit for disposal of appeals in rape cases.
Another salient feature of the Amendment is that the anticipatory bail will not be available in the case concerning rape of a minor girl below 16 years. Further, Fast Track courts consisting of women judges are also to be constituted under the Act.
Clearly, the measures provide for a stringent punitive regime and speedy trail of rape cases but at the same time, the amendment is being criticized by academicians and think tanks on the ground that awarding death penalty for the offence is a regressive step and it cannot be conclusively said that capital punishment would act as a deterrent in such crimes.