[Editorial] Review Of New Criminal Laws: What’s In A Name ?

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose – By any other name would smell as sweet”. This is what Shakespeare made his Juliet say in the play ‘Hamlet’.  But, in reality, names do matter a lot.

The Bills introduced in the Parliament last week to replace Indian Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Code and Indian Evidence Act intend to change the name of these laws to Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita and Bharatiya Sakshya Adhiniyam. Indian is being replaced as Bharatiya. Penal, Criminal Procedure and Evidence are being replaced by Nyaya, Nagarik Suraksha and Sakshya. Code and Act will become Sanhita and Adhiniyam.

This is for the first time a central law is going to have a purely non-English name. It is true that some laws have Hindi/Sanskrit terms in it, but all of them end with the term Act or Code, which is an English term. For example Grama Nyayalayas Act, Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, etc. But as per these Bills, short titles are in Hindi/Sanskrit.

Article 348 of the Constitution  is clear when it says that the authoritative texts of all Bills to be introduced or amendments thereto to be moved in either House of Parliament shall be in the English language. This has to be so until Parliament by law otherwise provides. Now all these Bills have their authoritative texts in English only. Ofcourse, one can argue that authoritative text includes the name of the Bill/Act also. But,  the spirit of Article 348 is only that the text of the Bill/Act should be in English so that people understand their contents. Even though we don’t endorse the narrative that purely non English names of the Bills/Acts are in violation of Article 348 of the Constitution, we are of the view that these names need a review. 

Non Hindi speaking citizens/lawyers will feel that the Government is imposing Hindi/Sanskrit on them and that may give rise to unnecessary controversies. We have ourselves spoken to a few Non- Hindi speaking lawyers who feel difficulty in even pronouncing these names.  It is usual practice among lawyers and judges to use abbreviations of the law names, like IPC, CrPC etc. Abbreviations of these Sanhitas will be BNS and BNSS, which sounds similar and thus may create confusion and discomfort. We wonder why should a law which is fully in English have a non-English name?

In this context, we should remember that, some members of the Constituent Assembly had demanded that the word “Bharat” or should be substituted in place of ‘India’.  However, the Constituent assembly voted for Dr. Ambedkar’s amendment and named the Country as India, that is Bharat

We, therefore, urge the Government to review the names of the bills.

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