Congress to scrap sedition law, amend AFSPA, appoint NJC if it comes to power


New Delhi, April 3, 2019:  The Congress on Tuesday made significant promises pertaining to law and judiciary, including scrapping the sedition law, making defamation a civil offence, establishing National Judicial Commission (NJC) to select judges, pass a new law to prevent torture, amend AFSPA to remove certain immunities and change law that allows detention without trial.

In its manifesto 'Congress will deliver' released here about 10 days ahead of the first phase of Lok Sabha elections, the party promised to introduce a bill to amend the Constitution to establish a court of appeal between high courts and the Supreme Court to hear appeals from judgments and orders of high courts.

The Court of Appeal will sit in multiple benches of three judges each in six locations.

The manifesto said that Congress will introduce a Bill to amend the Constitution "to make the Supreme Court a Constitutional Court" that will hear and decide cases involving the interpretation of the Constitution and other cases of legal significance or national importance.

It said that learned, independent and upright judges are the core of the judiciary. "Congress promises to establish a National Judicial Commission (NJC) that will be responsible for selection of judges for appointment to the high courts and the Supreme Court."

The party said NJC will have judges, jurists and parliamentarians and will be serviced by a secretariat. Suitable candidates will be placed in the public domain and the reasons for selection will be published to ensure that the entire process is transparent. "Once the new system is in place, we will endeavour to fill every vacancy in the high courts or Supreme Court within two months," the manifesto said.

The party promised to establish, by law, an independent Judicial Complaints Commission to investigate complaints of misconduct against judges and recommend suitable action to Parliament.

At the administrative level, Congress promised to immediately release all remand and under trial prisoners facing charges punishable with imprisonment of three years or less who have spent three months in prison and release immediately all remand and under trial prisoners facing charges punishable with imprisonment of 3 to 7 years who have spent 6 months in prison.

Stating that India is a "over-legislated and over-regulated" country, the party promised to initiate a comprehensive review of all laws, rules and regulations to repeal instruments that are outdated or unjust or unreasonably restrict the freedoms of the people.

"Specifically, Congress promises to decriminalise laws that are essentially laws directed against civil violations and can be subjected to civil penalties, omit Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code and make 'defamation' a civil offence, omit Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (that defines the offence of �sedition') that has been misused and, in any event, has become redundant because of subsequent laws,"the manifesto said.

It promised to amend the laws that allow for detention without trial in order to bring them in accord with the spirit of the Constitution.

The party said it will pass a law titled `Prevention of Torture Act' to prohibit use of third-degree methods during custody or interrogation and punish cases of torture, brutality or other police excesses.

It promised to amend the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 "to strike a balance between the powers of security forces and the human rights of citizens and to remove immunity for enforced disappearance, sexual violence and torture".

The party promised to amend the laws to declare that every investigation agency that has the power to search, seize, attach, summon, interrogate and arrest will be subject to the restrictions imposed on the police by the Constitution, the Code of Criminal Procedure and the Indian Evidence Act.

It promised to amend the Code of Criminal Procedure and related laws to affirm the principle that �Bail is the rule and jail is the exception.

The party promised to institute comprehensive prison reforms recognising the principle that prisons are institutions of correction.

The party promised to fix the retirement age of judges of High Courts and the Supreme Court as also the retirement age for judicial members in commissions and tribunals shall also be 65 years.

"This will prevent post-retirement assignments for serving judges and allow more opportunities for qualified persons to serve as judges or judicial members," the party said.

The party said that independence and integrity of the judiciary will be maintained and protected at all costs.

The party promised enhance representation of women, SC, ST, OBC, minorities and other under-represented sections in judiciary.

It promised to encourage technology and expedite the hearing and decisions on case.

The party said that laws must be just and reasonable.

"Congress believes that we are an over-legislated and over-regulated country," it said.

The party said that laws have proliferated restricting freedoms, innovation, enterprise, experimentation and economic growth has suffered.