“IPC, 1860; The Law Which Governed For More Than 16 Decades” 

“IPC, 1860; The Law Which Governed For More Than 16 Decades.” 

Author: Astitva Sharma, a student at Himachal Pradesh National Law University, Shimla. {HPNLU}.

The Indian Penal Code (IPC) was the official criminal code of the Republic of India, adopted from British India, after independence and replaced by the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita in December 2023. This was a comprehensive law that aimed to cover all important aspects of criminal law. The Code was based on the recommendations of the first Indian Law Commission, established in 1834 under the Charter Act of 1833 and chaired by Thomas Babington Macaulay.

This law came into force in the subcontinent during the British Raj in 1862. However, it did not automatically apply to the princely states, which had their courts and legal systems until the 1940s. Since then, the law has changed several times and now includes additional criminal provisions.  After the Partition of India in 1947, the British Indian Penal Code was adopted by the autonomous territories of India and Pakistan and existed independently as the Indian Penal Code and Pakistan Penal Code, respectively. Even after Bangladesh gained independence from Pakistan, this norm remained in force there. The Act was also adopted by the British colonial authorities in Colonial Burma, British Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), the Straits Settlements (now part of Malaysia), Singapore, and Brunei, and continues to form the basis of the criminal laws of these countries.

On  August 11, 2023, the government introduced a bill in Parliament to replace the Indian Penal Code with a bill called the Bharatiya Nyaya Samhita (BNS), which was assented to by the Hon’ble President on 25th of December, 2023.

Features of IPC, 1860; 

  • Vast Legislation: Divided into 23 Chapters & 511 Sections.
  • General explanations; Chapter 2 clearly defines the terminology used. 
  • Punishment; It is provided to stop the wrongdoer. Defined under Section 53. It is classified into 5 types: 
  1. Death Penalty.
  2. Imprisonment for Life.
  3. Imprisonment, i.e. rigorous & Simple. 
  4. Forfeiture of Property.
  5. Fine.

Requirement & History:

To achieve uniform laws and legal systems in all parts of British  India, the Charter Act of 1833 established a single legislative body for all of  British India. This gave the Governor-General of India, for the first time, sole responsibility for promulgating laws for all people and presidential cities as well as mussels. This Parliament was therefore given the power to make all laws, whether local or all of India. The Governor General was supported by an Executive Council.

However, the Charter Act of 1833 provided for the appointment of legal members to the Governor’s Council, who could attend and vote only at “meetings for the making of laws and regulations. Thomas Babington Macaulay, who firmly believed that India’s salvation lay in complete Anglicization, was appointed the first statutory member of the Council and took office on 27 June 1834. The Charter Act  1833 also provides for the appointment of a Law Commission to carry out a comprehensive inquiry and report on the status of the laws in force and the administration of justice in British India. Accordingly,  the First Law Commission was established in 1834 and consisted of Thomas Babbington Macaulay, Sir John Macpherson MacLeod, Jorge William Anderson, and F. Millet as members.

From 1834 to 1836, the Law Commission was under TB. Under Macaulay’s supervision, a draft Penal Code was prepared, which codified the Uniform Penal Code for all of British India.  Under the Government’s order of 15 June 1835, the Commission submitted a draft Penal Code to the Governor-General in Council on 2 May 1837, who submitted it to the Law Commission on 5 June 1837. The Committee printed the draft under its supervision and carefully revised and amended the Code with annotations while it was in the printing press.  It is to be noted that the draft Penal Code was prepared by the Law Commission neither based on the Penal Code in force in various states at the time nor on the Penal Code based on Islamic or Hindu law.

The Committee reasoned as follows; 

Hindu criminal law was long ago replaced by Muslim criminal law. Muslim criminal law has been largely replaced by regulation. In fact, in the areas under the jurisdiction of the Bombay Presidency, the Muslim as well as Hindu criminal laws were completely abolished, except in certain classes of cases. And even in such cases, the judge doesn’t need to pay attention to it.

The UK regulations, enacted by three different parliaments, contain, as might be expected, very different provisions. The committee also considered it inappropriate to use the Bombay Code as it had no “superiority” over the criminal laws of  Bengal and the Madras Presidency. The committee, when drafting the Code, justified its position and disclosed its source.

Effects on Society after the Implementation of the Law:

After the Indian Penal Code came into force, it can be said with certainty that in the  Indian legal system, criminal liability for an act or omission arises from an Act that prohibits an act or omission as an illegal omission. Violation of an Act prohibited by law or a person’s prescribed obligations shall be punishable by law. The general law of crimes is prescribed by statute, specifically the Indian Penal Code, as amended from time to time. Indian Penal Code, 1860 is a  work of vision and labor over three decades (1834-1860) of the Law Commissioners, especially Lord Macaulay, the principal architect of the Code.

He codified the  English criminal laws in force at the time. It is to be noted that the Indian Penal Code, 1860, only moderately amended since its post-British enactment, was in force as a substantive criminal law in India for about 150 last year. Only three chapters, namely offenses relating to criminal conspiracy, suffrage, and cruelty against married women, were added to the original 23 chapters. The Penal Code can be broadly divided into four parts.

  • Chapters I to V cover general questions about scope, definitions, principles of liability, etc.
  •  Chapters VI to XV deal with 4,444 public questions between the individual and the State.
  •  Chapters XVI to XXII  mainly concern offenses committed by individuals against natural persons or legal entities other than the State.
  •  Chapter XXIII is finally supplementary, establishing principles for the suppression of crime if no specific provision has been made for this purpose.

 In addition to the general substantive criminal law prescribed in the Indian Penal Code, of 1860, the Central and State legislatures have enacted various statutes constituting sections of the penal code of the country to address specific subjects. Special Law applies to a specific subject while local law prescribes the applicable law to a particular region of India.  Any unlawful act prohibited by general, special, or local law and sanctioned is a crime, even if civil liability may also arise from the wrongful act. Therefore, when the owner disconnects the tenant’s sub-meter, this will make him liable for the violation of section 426 IPC, even if the tenant can sue the owner for damages.

Special Features of the Code:

The Indian Penal Code is the basic law governing the determination of criminal liability for acts offenses specified therein, as well as the offenses specified therein. Declaration of exceptional cases on the issue of criminal liability for crimes mentioned in an article of the Law. Each crime has been clearly defined, providing the necessary elements that constitute the crime. For specific offenses, the mens rea, Actus reus, and the prohibited consequences must be followed to be punishable. The various forms and shades of the guilty mind have been crystallized by the Act under the Indian Penal Code. Although the requisite criminal mind is clearly stated in the statutory definitions of crime,  it is observed that the doctrine of mens rea has been introduced into criminal law in India through judicial decisions.

There are many elements of crime but the 2 most important are;

  1. Men’s rea, i.e. Guilty Mind.
  2. Actus Reus, i.e. Guilty act.

Mens Rea is more important than Actus Reus. Mens Rea is mostly present but in some instances like kidnapping, abduction, wagering war, etc., it is not considered, and only based on Actus Reus is the punishment given.

Criminal law is considered one of the truest mirrors of a given civilization, reflecting the basic values on which the law is based. Although the Indian Penal Code has been described as one of the best, revolutionary changes in the economic, social, and political spheres required the enactment of laws with far-reaching consequences. Black marketing and profiteering after  World War II became a global phenomenon. The Indian government took advantage of this opportunity by enacting the Defense of India Act and its rules which prescribe strict punishment in case of smuggling and profiteering etc.

While some countries return to normal life after the end of hostilities, others face difficulties even in peacetime. So, profiteering and black marketing have now become a  practice and to check these bad practices, legislation has been framed in the form of the Essential  Commodities Act. There have been many changes in law, criminal law in the form of amendments to the IPC and enactment of supporting laws to address various social evils and socio-economic crimes such as corruption of state officials, drug trafficking, smuggling, money laundering, etc.

Replacement from IPC, 1860 to BNS, 2023; 

Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita,2023 (BNS) received the assent of the President of India on 25.12.2023.  There is a misconception that BNS  has replaced IPC from 25.12.2023 and FIR for all offenses will be filed with BNS from 25.12.2023. “It’s not like that.” The BNS shall only repeal and replace the IPC  from the date of commencement of the BNS, as directed by the Central Government by issuing notification under Section 1(2) of the BNS. The central government is empowered to fix different effective dates for different provisions of the BNS.

‘All offenses committed up to the date(s) notified by the BNS will be dealt with only under the IPC.’

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