The criminal justice system descends from the British model. The judiciary and the bar are independent although efforts have been made by some politicians to undermine the autonomy of the judiciary. From about the time of Indira Gandhi's tenure as prime minister, the executive has treated judicial authorities in an arbitrary fashion. Judges who handed down decisions that challenged the regime in office have on occasion been passed over for promotion, for example. Furthermore, unpopular judges have been given less-than-desirable assignments. Because the pay and perquisites of the judiciary have not kept up with salaries and benefits in the private sector, fewer able members of the legal profession have entered the ranks of the senior judiciary.

Despite the decline in the caliber and probity of the judiciary, established procedures for the protection of defendants, except in the case of strife-torn areas, are routinely observed. The penal philosophy embraces the ideals of preventing crime and rehabilitating criminals.

Criminal Law and Procedure Under the constitution, criminal jurisdiction belongs concurrently to the central government and the states. The prevailing law on crime prevention and punishment is embodied in two principal statutes: the Indian Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1973. These laws take precedence over any state legislation, and the states cannot alter or amend them. Separate legislation enacted by both the states and the central government also has established criminal liability for acts such as smuggling, illegal use of arms and ammunition, and corruption. All legislation, however, remains subordinate to the constitution.

The Indian Penal Code came into force in 1862; as amended, it continued in force in 1993. Based on British criminal law, the code defines basic crimes and punishments, applies to resident foreigners and citizens alike, and recognizes offenses committed abroad by Indian nationals.

The penal code classifies crimes under various categories: crimes against the state, the armed forces, public order, the human body, and property; and crimes relating to elections, religion, marriage, and health, safety, decency, and morals. Crimes are cognizable or noncognizable, comparable to the distinction between felonies and misdemeanors in legal use in the United States. Six categories of punishment include fines, forfeiture of property, simple imprisonment, rigorous imprisonment with hard labor, life imprisonment, and death. An individual can be imprisoned for failure to pay fines, and up to three months' solitary confinement can occur during rare rigorous imprisonment sentences. Commutation is possible for death and life sentences. Executions are by hanging and are rare--there were only three in 1993 and two in 1994--and are usually reserved for crimes such as political assassination and multiple murders.