In a significant diplomatic endeavour, the 10th meeting of the Ministers of Law and Justice of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) countries was convened through video conferencing. This meeting, held on September 5, 2023, saw India reaffirm its commitment to the SCO charter, underlining principles such as mutual trust, respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity, and mutual benefit.
Minister of State for Law and Justice, Arjun Ram Meghwal, articulated India’s dedication to these values, emphasizing Prime Minister Modi’s vision of India as a “Universal friend” with a foundation of trust at its core.
One of the focal points of India’s commitment to the SCO is its ongoing legal reforms. India has embarked on a path to simplify its legal framework by repealing archaic laws and regulations that have become obsolete. Remarkably, 1486 such laws have already been abolished, contributing to an improved quality of life for citizens and facilitating a more business-friendly environment. Furthermore, India is actively promoting ‘Alternative Dispute Resolution’ and encouraging citizens to adopt ‘mediation’ as a primary means of resolving conflicts and disputes.
Recognising the importance of aligning the legal system with evolving societal needs, the Indian government is making epoch-making changes in its legal and judicial systems. These changes involve modernizing colonial-era laws, such as the Indian Penal Code (1860), Indian Evidence Act (1872), and Criminal Procedure Code (1898), with new laws that draw inspiration from India’s rich legal heritage while catering to modern realities.
Digital data protection is another paramount concern for India, as the minister emphasized. He urged member countries to prioritize and collaborate on the protection of digital data and the development of a safe and secure digital ecosystem worldwide.
The SCO, established in 2001, has historically focused on regional security issues, counterterrorism efforts, and addressing ethnic separatism and religious extremism. In recent years, it has expanded its scope to include regional development.
The meeting began on a positive note, with a message from President Xi Jinping of China, emphasizing cooperation and understanding among member countries to realize the SCO’s objectives and enhance its contribution to regional development.
A significant outcome of the meeting was the signing of a joint statement by all SCO Justice Ministers. This statement emphasized the progress achieved in legal and judicial cooperation among member countries over the last 22 years. It highlighted mutual understanding regarding the development of legal systems, aligning with the SCO development strategy 2025. The Ministers declared their commitment to:
1. Enhance cooperation in legal and judicial spheres among Ministries of Law and Justice of SCO Member nations.
2. Continue implementing the Co-operation Agreement.
3. Organize conferences and legal cooperation forums to facilitate the exchange of experiences.
4. Sustain the work of Expert Working Groups on Forensic Expertise and Legal Services.
The meeting concluded with the decision to hold the next SCO Ministers for Law and Justice meeting in the Republic of Kazakhstan in 2024.
India’s active participation in the SCO reaffirms its commitment to fostering legal and judicial cooperation, aligning its legal systems with contemporary needs, and championing digital data protection in an increasingly interconnected world. These endeavours reflect India’s dedication to the principles of the SCO and its pursuit of regional development and cooperation.