winds of change-part III-Domestic strategy-ch 31

31. Criminal Law and Contemporary Social Change

I AM SURE there could not be two opinions about the urgent need for an unbiased and uninhibited examination of the criminal law of the country. In several countries greater discussion and reformist action has taken place about the penal methods. Considerable thought has been devoted to discover what sort of a person the offender is and why he has broken the law and decide what to do with him. But hardly have men thought of critically examining the contents of that very law the existence of which alone makes it possible for the individual to commit an offence against it.

Even in comparison with the constitutional and civil law, the criminal law continues to suffer from neglect. And yet there could be no law so basic to the orderly existence and functioning of the Society. Ever since the dawn of civilization man has striven to evolve, through a system of customs and sanctions, norms of social behaviour. Historically also the function of the criminal law, as a system of sanctions, has been not only to maintain law and order — a fundamental pre-requisite for the very existence of an orderly society — but also to promote well being and progress of the community. These functions are inter­dependent, for without order the social structure cannot be stable enough to promote progress. It is well known that when the laws break down, social groups suffer disintegration. It must be considered a significant feature of criminal law that the values it stands for are so basic that often not much thought is given to it; for the most part it is taken for granted.

The criminal law in every country is relatable to a certain ideology of the people. It is in a way an index of the set of values which the society stands for. These values, whether they relate to the very physical existence of the society or to the norms of social behaviour within the compass of contemporary morality, are bound to change with the changing times and progress. Therefore, criminal law to be of value has to be a living organism, supported by the confidence of all sections of the com­munity. It has to develop according to the practical and ideological needs of the time, and must inevitably undergo continuous reappraisal. The main danger of a petrified, outdated criminal law is that it does not take cognisance of changing conditions and therefore exposes itself to frequent and deliberate violation. Enforcement of such a law which has become totally unrelated to the needs of a changing society would prove a serious obstacle in the way of its progress.