Since criminal acts are considered offences in rem, i.e., against society in general, the State acts as the prosecuting party in court.
The Constitution of India provides for a federal system wherein powers are divided between the central, state, and local governments. The demarcation of powers is provided in Schedule VII read with Article 246 of the Constitution. Powers are divided into three lists:
- The Union List: the Union Parliament has exclusive power to make laws with respect to the matters enumerated within this list.
- The State List: State Legislatures have the exclusive power to make laws with respect to the matters enumerated within this list.
- Concurrent List: both the Parliament and State Legislatures have the power to make laws with respect to the matters enumerated within this list.
In the event of contradiction between Central and State laws, the Central law will prevail.
Criminal law and criminal procedure fall under the Concurrent List while matters relating to Police and Prisons fall under the State List. The laws that govern criminal law in India are the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) and the Criminal Procedure Code, 1974 (CrPC). The IPC provides for the substantive law to be followed in case a crime has been committed. The CrPC provides for the procedures to be followed during investigation and trial by the police and courts.
There exist specific courts for criminal trials to held called Sessions Courts at the District level. India has adopted the adversarial system of legal procedure wherein the judge acts as a neutral party and the case is argued by the prosecutor suing the plaintiff and defense attorney who defends their plaintiff. One major distinction between India and other common law countries is that it does not follow the jury system.
I. Indian Penal Code (1860)
The Indian Penal Code (IPC) is the main document which governs all criminal acts and the punishments they ought to be charged with. The objective of enacting the IPC was to provide a general and exhaustive penal code for crime in India. However, there are several other penal statutes that govern various other offences in addition to the IPC. In animal law, a notable such statute is the Prevention of Cruelty Against Animals Act. In order to be held liable under the IPC, the accused must possess both mens rea (guilty mind) and actus reas (guilty act).
The IPC extends to the whole of India. Punishments under the IPC can be extended both to offences committed within India as well as offences committed beyond, but which by law may be tried, within India. The provisions of IPC apply also to any offence committed by any citizen of India in any place without and beyond India and by any person on any ship or aircraft registered in India wherever it may be.
II. Criminal Procedure Code (1974)
The Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) is a procedural law which states how the police machinery is to function as far as investigation and procedure is to be followed by courts during investigation and trial. The CrPC classifies criminal offences into several categories such as bailable, non-bailable, cognizable and non-cognizable offences. The procedural treatment of different offences is different. The various steps at the time to filing a complaint such as filing a First Information Report (FIR), gathering evidence and initiating an enquiry are all governed by the CrPC. The CrPC further lays down classes of criminal courts.
III. Animal protection under Indian Criminal Law
There are two types of offences under the IPC:
- Cognizable offence: if such an offence has been committed, the police may arrest a person without warrant. Police are authorized to start an investigation into a cognizable offence on their own and do not required any court orders to do so. Examples of cognizable offences include murder and rape.
- Non-cognizable offence: if such an offence has been committed, the police do not have the authority to arrest without a warrant. Police are not authorized to start an investigation into a non-cognizable offence without a court’s permission. Examples of non-cognizable offences include cheating and forgery.
Killing or injuring an animal is a cognizable offence under the IPC read with Section 3 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (1960) which holds that:
no person shall beat, kick, injure, kill, torture, cause stress and discomfort to any animal or being the owner, allow such treatment to be inflicted upon any animal.
Section 428 of the IPC states the punishment for killing or injuring an animal as follows:
Whoever commits mischief by killing, poisoning, maiming or rendering useless any animal or animals of the value of ten rupees or upwards, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.
Section 429 of the IPC states the punishment for other kinds of animals as follows:
Whoever commits mis¬chief by killing, poisoning, maiming or rendering useless, any elephant, camel, horse, mule, buffalo, bull, cow or ox, whatever may be the value thereof, or any other animal of the value of fifty rupees or upwards, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years, or with fine, or with both.
Section 378 of the IPC makes stealing an animal tantamount to the crime of theft. Further, Section 508 of the IPC criminalizes criminal intimidation which is to be charged if animal caretakers are prevented illegally or forcibly from keeping pets or feeding stray animals.