THE 21st Law Commission of India, which was constituted by the authority of the President of India, for three years from September 1, 2015 expired on August 31, 2018. The Central Government seems disinterested in constituting the new – twenty-second – Law Commission. Alarmingly, it has been five months since the last Commission came to its end and, yet, the Central Government has not taken any initiative so far to constitute it afresh.
As per media reports, the Ministry of Law and Justice had cleared the proposal for the reconstitution of the 22nd Law Commission in September 2018 and sent to the Union Cabinet for approval. However, the Government has not acted on the files for the reconstitution of the Law Commission despite the recommendation of the Law Ministry.
The Law Commission of India is an advisory body to the Ministry of Law and Justice and has played a key role in the process of law reforms in India. The reports of the Commission have been recognised by the Supreme Court of India and by academia, as pioneering. In a number of decisions, the Supreme Court has referred to the work done by the Law Commission and followed its recommendations.
The 21st Law Commission was headed by former judge of the Supreme Court, Justice B S Chauhan. In the period of three years, the 21st Law Commission released 15 reports and two consultation papers and had taken up issues such as hate speech, implementation of United Nations Convention against Torture, and sedition, among others.
The 21st Law Commission released a “draft report” in the form of a “public appeal” on the issue of simultaneous election to Parliament and State Assemblies and also put across its findings in the public domain. The 21st Law Commission also released a consultation paper on the critical Uniform Civil Code, where it suggested wide-ranging changes in various family laws for bringing greater gender justice and equality. However, the Commission opined that a “uniform civil code is neither necessary nor desirable at this stage”.
The 21st Law Commission expired at a crucial time when the Commission was deliberating on several key issues. At times, Law Commission through its reports has been critical of the Union Government’s policies. However, in the past, no Government took such a long time for reconstituting and appointing the Commission.
It is widely accepted that the functioning of the Law Commission is crucial in the larger public interest and for formulating strong public policies. By delaying the reconstitution of the Law Commission, the Government is not fulfilling on its mandate to build strong and independent institutions that help shape just public policies.
Although Law Commission has not been provided by the Constitution, yet it is inspired by various parts of the Constitution particularly Article 39 A which directs that the “State shall secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice …”.
It’s the duty of the Government to uphold the Constitution, but the Government of India is reneging its duties by delaying the reconstitution of the Law Commission, which is critical for a legal system that promotes justice.