In furtherance to Government of India’s policy of zero tolerance for crime and in an endeavor to fast track the dispensation of justice, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has taken steps to enhance and streamline the process of international mutual legal assistance in criminal matters. The MHA has issued Revised Guidelines for Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters in December 2019. The revised guidelines can be accessed here.
The revised guidelines provide step-by-step guidance to the investigation agencies for drafting and processing Letters Rogatory / Mutual Legal Assistance Requests and Service of Summons, Notices & other Judicial Documents. By incorporating various legal and technological developments in the recent years, it aims to make the documentation in this regard more precise and focused as well as compliant with International requirements.
The guidelines have also taken into account the concerns raised by various courts for prompt and timely responses in service of documents on persons residing abroad. As an initiative, the revised guidelines have provision for service of documents on authorities of foreign country preferably within 10 days of receipt of request in respect of offences committed against women and children.
Training in mutual legal assistance in criminal matters has also been taken up for investigators, prosecutors and judicial officers.
The transnational nature of crime and digital explosion has blurred geographical boundaries for criminal activities. Availability of evidence and criminals outside the sovereign jurisdiction of countries has necessitated the transformation of scope and nature of conventional investigation.
India has entered into Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties/ Agreements with 42 countries and is signatory to various international conventions i.e. UNCAC, UNTOC etc. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is the designated ‘Central Authority’ for India. Generally, assistance is sought and received in the form of Mutual Legal Assistance Requests/Letters Rogatory and Service of Summons/Notices/Judicial documents on persons residing abroad.
In order to streamline the process of rendering/ seeking such assistance, MHA had issued guidelines regarding investigation abroad & issue of Letters Rogatory (LRs) in 2007 & regarding Service of Summons/Notices/ Judicial process on the persons residing abroad in 2009.
Over the decade, there have been substantial changes in International Cooperation based on new legislations, regulations & conventions and amendment in procedural laws all over the world including India. These changes necessitated the need for comprehensive review of existing guidelines to keep them abreast the modern era requirements.