Bharatiya Sakshya Act, 2023: Key Features & Impacts

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The Bharatiya Sakshya Act, 2023, officially known as the Bharatiya Sakshya Adhiniyam, was enacted to replace the Indian Evidence Act of 1872. Passed by the Indian Parliament in December 2023 and receiving presidential assent shortly thereafter, this new legislation aims to modernize the handling of evidence within the Indian legal system, incorporating contemporary issues such as digital evidence. The Act is part of a broader overhaul of India’s criminal laws, including updates to the Indian Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure.

Bharatiya Sakshya Act, 2023 upsc Mindmap

This topic of “Bharatiya Sakshya Act, 2023: Key Features & Impacts” is important from the perspective of the UPSC IAS Examination, which falls under General Studies Portion.


  • Indian Evidence Act, 1872
    • Served as the primary law governing the admissibility, relevancy, and credibility of evidence in Indian courts.
    • Enacted to ensure fair trials and to exclude unreliable evidence from consideration.
    • Comprised of three parts: general rules of evidence, relevancy of facts, and production and effect of evidence.
    • Applied to all judicial proceedings in India, both civil and criminal, but not to affidavits or proceedings before an arbitrator.
    • Despite amendments, it has been noted that the Act has remained largely unchanged over 140 years, reflecting its strong draftsmanship but also highlighting its age.
  • Need for a New Act
    • The rise of digital and electronic evidence necessitated updates to the legal framework, leading to the introduction of Sections 65A and 65B in the Indian Evidence Act.
    • The original Act did not account for modern technological advancements, such as electronic records and digital communication, which have become integral in legal proceedings.
    • Societal changes and the evolution of crime necessitated a legal system that could effectively handle new types of evidence and methods of crime.

Legislative Process

  • Initial Introduction
    • The Bharatiya Sakshya Bill, 2023 was first introduced in the Lok Sabha on August 11, 2023, by the Home Minister, Amit Shah.
  • Withdrawal and Reintroduction
    • The original bill was withdrawn on December 12, 2023, due to the need for revisions.
    • Subsequently, a revised version, the Bharatiya Sakshya (Second) Bill, 2023, was introduced on the same day.
  • Parliamentary Approval
    • The revised bill was passed by the Lok Sabha on December 20, 2023, and by the Rajya Sabha on December 21, 2023.
  • Presidential Assent
    • The bill received the assent of the President of India on December 25, 2023, officially enacting it into law.

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Key Features of the Bharatiya Sakshya Act, 2023

  • Retention of Provisions
    • Maintains many foundational elements from the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, ensuring continuity in legal proceedings.
  • New Definitions and Inclusions
    • Incorporates electronic and digital records within the definition of “document,” reflecting the digital age.
    • Updates terminology, replacing outdated terms with contemporary language, enhancing clarity and relevance.
  • Admissibility of Evidence
    • Introduces specific provisions for the admissibility of electronic records, treating them on par with traditional documentary evidence.
    • Expands the concept of primary evidence to include multiple instances of electronic or digital records.
    • Clarifies that electronic records produced from proper custody will be considered primary evidence unless contested.
  • Confessions and Police Custody
    • Modifies the approach to confessions made in police custody, potentially allowing for certain information obtained during custody to be admissible.
    • Aims to safeguard the rights of the accused while ensuring the integrity of confessions used in legal proceedings.

Major Changes and Their Implications

  • Handling of Electronic Records and Digital Evidence
    • The Bharatiya Sakshya Act, 2023, classifies electronic records as primary evidence, significantly altering their previous status as secondary evidence under the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.
    • This change includes a broader definition of documents to encompass digital communications like emails, server logs, and text messages, ensuring their admissibility in court without the stringent requirements previously needed for electronic evidence.
    • New provisions under the Act address the authentication and integrity of electronic records, aiming to prevent tampering and ensure the reliability of digital evidence presented in legal proceedings.
  • Removal of Colonial-Era References
    • The Act has removed outdated colonial terms and references, replacing them with more relevant and contemporary language. This includes changing terms like ‘vakil’ and ‘pleader’ to ‘advocate’, and ‘lunatic’ to ‘person of unsound mind’, reflecting a modern and sensitive legal vocabulary.
    • Such changes are part of a broader effort to decolonize and modernize India’s legal framework, making it more relatable and accessible to the general populace.
  • Expanded Scope of Secondary Evidence
    • The Act broadens the scope of what constitutes secondary evidence. This includes mechanical copies and counterparts of documents, which can now be admitted as secondary evidence under certain conditions.
    • This expansion aims to facilitate the legal process by allowing more flexibility in the types of evidence that can be presented, potentially speeding up proceedings and reducing logistical burdens associated with producing original documents.

Criticisms and Controversies

  • Lack of Substantial Improvement
    • Critics argue that the Bharatiya Sakshya Act, 2023, does not significantly improve upon the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, with many provisions merely renumbered or restructured without substantive changes.
    • Concerns have been raised about the preservation of outdated legal frameworks under the guise of modernization, which could perpetuate existing legal inefficiencies.
  • Potential for Misuse of Electronic Evidence Provisions
    • There are apprehensions about the expanded admissibility of electronic records as primary evidence, which may lead to issues with the authenticity and tampering of digital data.
    • The lack of stringent safeguards against the manipulation of electronic evidence has been highlighted as a significant oversight, potentially leading to wrongful convictions or misuse in legal proceedings.
  • Legislative Process and Stakeholder Consultation
    • The drafting and enactment process of the Bharatiya Sakshya Act, 2023, has been criticized for its secrecy and lack of adequate consultation with legal experts and stakeholders.
    • Opposition members and some experts have expressed dissatisfaction with the hurried manner in which the bill was passed, suggesting that it did not allow for comprehensive review or incorporation of diverse perspectives.

Comparison with International Standards

  • Alignment with International Evidence Acts
    • The Bharatiya Sakshya Act, 2023 (BSA, 2023) aligns with international standards by recognizing electronic records as primary evidence, similar to the approach in the Chinese Criminal Procedural Law which also categorizes electronic data as a statutory type of evidence.
    • However, unlike the EU’s e-Evidence package, which facilitates cross-border access to electronic evidence for law enforcement, the BSA, 2023 does not explicitly address international cooperation or cross-jurisdictional issues in electronic evidence collection.
  • Global Best Practices in Handling Electronic Evidence
    • The BSA, 2023 incorporates advanced verification methods for electronic evidence, such as hash value verification, which is a global best practice to ensure the integrity of data. This practice is also seen in jurisdictions like China, where blockchain technology is used for similar purposes.
    • Despite these advancements, the BSA, 2023 lacks specific provisions seen in other international frameworks, such as the EU’s directive requiring service providers to comply with law enforcement requests, which ensures a more streamlined process for accessing electronic evidence across EU states.
    • The act does not fully integrate some of the stringent safeguards recommended by international bodies like INTERPOL, which emphasizes the importance of maintaining the integrity and admissibility of electronic evidence through standardized forensic procedures.

Future Implications and Conclusion

  • Potential Long-term Effects on the Indian Judicial System
    • The Bharatiya Sakshya Act, 2023 (BSA, 2023) is expected to significantly impact the Indian judicial system by enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of legal proceedings. The inclusion of electronic and digital records as primary evidence is anticipated to streamline the process of evidence handling, reducing delays and potentially decreasing case backlogs.
    • The Act’s modern provisions align with technological advancements, which could lead to a more robust framework for dealing with contemporary forms of evidence and cyber-related crimes.
  • Role of the Judiciary and Legal Practitioners
    • The judiciary’s role will be crucial in interpreting and applying the new provisions of the BSA, 2023. Judges will need to be trained on the nuances of digital evidence and its implications within legal contexts to ensure fair and just trials.
    • Legal practitioners, including lawyers and prosecutors, must adapt to the changes by updating their skills and knowledge related to digital technologies and electronic evidence. This adaptation is essential for the effective implementation of the Act.
  • Final Thoughts on Meeting Objectives
    • While the BSA, 2023 aims to modernize evidence law in India by incorporating changes necessary for the digital age, its success in meeting these objectives will largely depend on its implementation and the judiciary’s ability to handle new types of evidence effectively.
    • Continuous education and updates in legal practice, along with the development of supporting regulations and guidelines, will be key to ensuring that the BSA, 2023 fulfills its promise of modernizing the Indian evidence law and making the judicial process more efficient.

Practice Question

Analyze the implications of the Bharatiya Sakshya Act, 2023, on the admissibility and integrity of electronic evidence in the Indian judicial system, considering the Act’s alignment with international standards. (250 words)

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