The Act Of Balancing Rehabilitation And Accountability: Analysing The Functioning Of JJB

Anshika Oswal

14 Jun 2024 12:30 PM GMT

  • The Act Of Balancing Rehabilitation And Accountability: Analysing The Functioning Of JJB

    The recent case in Pune, where a 17-year-old boy killed two innocent youngsters in a road accident through rash and drunk driving, has been making headlines. What has infuriated people even more is the punishment handed down by the Juvenile Justice Board (JJB), which is also thought to be influenced by the high profile that the father of the accused holds. The minor was assigned to write...

    The recent case in Pune, where a 17-year-old boy killed two innocent youngsters in a road accident through rash and drunk driving, has been making headlines. What has infuriated people even more is the punishment handed down by the Juvenile Justice Board (JJB), which is also thought to be influenced by the high profile that the father of the accused holds. The minor was assigned to write a 300-word essay on the topic of "Road Accidents and Their Solutions" and to work with the Regional Transport Office (RTO) to understand traffic rules. This punishment has gained significant public attention because it is widely perceived as disproportionate to the grave loss caused, representing a violation of the legal principle "Ubi jus ibi remedium" (where there is a right, there is a remedy).

    This situation raises important questions about the functioning of the JJB and its efficacy in maintaining decisions that are just for society, even when the case is high profile. The primary aim of the Juvenile Justice Act of 2015 is rooted in the belief that minors are not fully capable of understanding the nature and consequences of their actions and thus should have the opportunity to be rehabilitated back into society. This rehabilitation focus is based on the idea that children are in a crucial phase of development and possess the potential for reform. By providing them with the necessary tools and support to make positive changes, the system aims to benefit both the individual and society at large.

    However, this case challenges the effectiveness of such rehabilitation measures, especially when they seem to undermine the principles of natural justice. The punishment in this instance—a short essay and some training—appears grossly inadequate in the face of the loss of two innocent lives.

    The central question this article seeks to address is whether such rehabilitation measures effectively serve justice. How can a balance be achieved that respects the child's potential for reform while ensuring that justice for the victims is served with fairness and accountability? The child's mens rea (mental state) should be given due importance, but it must also be weighed against the need for justice and the severity of the crime. Finding this balance is crucial for maintaining public trust in the juvenile justice system. What becomes even more important is for parents to take responsibility for the actions of their children to prevent such serious offenses.

    • PROVISIONS FOR HEINOUS CRIME

    The initial statute established for juvenile justice, the Juvenile Justice Act of 1962, did not include provisions allowing for an accused individual under the age of 18 to be treated as an adult in legal proceedings. Under this act, only the Juvenile Justice Board (JJB) or the Children's Court was responsible for handling such matters. However, the Nirbhaya case in 2012, which shook the entire country, involved a minor aged 17.5 years as one of the accused in the gruesome crime. This incident led the judicial system to reconsider the existing laws, as the minor received a relatively lenient punishment of just three years for his involvement in such an inhumane act. In response, the Juvenile Justice Act of 2015 was introduced. This new act categorized crimes into three sections: petty offenses, serious offenses, and heinous offenses. According to Section 15, read along with Section 18(3) of the act, if a child aged between 16 to 18 years commits a crime with a minimum punishment of seven years under the Indian Penal Code (IPC), a preliminary committee is established. This committee assesses the mental state and capacity of the child to understand the nature and consequences of their actions. If the committee determines that the child was capable of understanding the nature of the crime, the child would then be treated as an adult and tried under the relevant statutes, such as the IPC and CPC.

    The provision of heinous crimes could not be applied to the present case, taking into consideration the judgment of the Supreme Court in the case of *Shilpa Mittal v. State of NCT of Delhi and Anr.* In this case, the court held that a crime which does not prescribe the minimum punishment as 7 years and only prescribes a maximum punishment as more than 7 years could be termed as a serious offense and not a heinous offense. Consequently, the child could not be tried as an adult. Thus, in the present case, although the accused was guilty as per section 304 of the IPC, he could not be given punishment as per the same.

    • ENSURING ACCOUNTABILITY FOR ACTIONS

    Here an important question that arises in the mind of an ordinary person is this: If a child is able to act and behave like an adult—driving a vehicle, drinking alcohol, making decisions to party until late at night—can't the child be punished like one? How far is the 7-year punishment limit justified in decreasing the punishment for killing two innocent people to a mere 300-word essay? Does a child who has the liberty to act like an adult in all the places where he can have fun be allowed to get immunity in places where he has to bear the consequences of such fun acts?

    Some legal minds in the nation would be interested in defending the viewpoint of the judgment of JJB by pointing out the fact that the child, though having committed a gross and negligent mistake, lacks the cognitive maturity and reasoning power to understand the results of the acts they are committing. Research from the American Psychological Association indicates that the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for decision-making and impulse control, is not fully developed until the mid-20s[1]. This suggests that juveniles may not fully comprehend the long-term impact of their actions. Thus, the judiciary should take cognizance of this factor while punishing the child and should also keep in mind the primary motive of protecting and rehabilitating the minor.

    The core issue remains whether child rights and understanding a child's mens rea should take precedence over the safety of the public. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2020, 10% of all motor vehicle crash deaths involved drivers aged 15 to 20[2]. The judicial system must balance protecting the community and rehabilitating the child offender. There is a need to ensure that minors are not free to act without fear of punishment while still considering their developmental status and potential for rehabilitation.

    • STRIKING A BALANCE

    To ensure accountability for actions, whether by a child or an adult, effective changes are needed in both judicial decisions and societal attitudes. Regarding judicial decisions, the judiciary, particularly the juvenile justice board (JJB), should focus not only on the welfare of the minor but also on providing justice to the injured party. While the JJB's role is to protect child offenders from permanent harm during criminal proceedings and allow for their rehabilitation, this must be balanced with teaching them that actions have consequences. This balance is necessary to provide justice for victims and to ensure that the future generation understands the importance of responsible behaviour.

    One effective approach is to establish a set of penalties for serious offences and distinguish them from petty offences. While considerable attention has been given to handling heinous offences, there is a need to address serious offences more effectively. Research from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) indicates that structured sentencing guidelines that differentiate between levels of offence severity can help reduce recidivism rates among juvenile offenders[3]. Introducing intermediate punishments for serious offences, which are more severe than those for petty offences, would build trust in the judicial system and help minors understand the consequences of their actions, thereby preventing future misconduct.

    Although a child cannot be expected to have the same level of awareness as an adult, this should not prevent society from taking measures to stop them from committing wrongful acts that could lead to serious incidents in the future.

    THE RIGHT BALANCE OF INFLUENCE AND ACCOUNTABILITY

    Another reason why this case has garnered significant attention is due to the influential status of the father of the accused. It's often observed that the judicial system tends to be more lenient when awarding punishments to such individuals, owing to the considerable power and influence they wield over the system. The 1999 hit-and-run case, wherein Sanjeev Nanda, the grandson of an ex-naval chief, ran over six people in Delhi while driving a BMW under the influence of alcohol, resulted in a mere two-year punishment. Cases like these erode the trust of the common man in the nation's judicial system, which stands as the backbone of a stable society.

    Vishal Agarwal, the father of the 17-year-old accused in the present case, is a prominent real estate builder. His influence is evident from the tampering of evidence, such as the medical reports of the accused. Additionally, reports suggest that Vishal Agarwal allegedly threatened the driver to accept responsibility for the crime. These situations indicate that the parents are more concerned about shielding their son from the offence rather than respecting the judicial system and ensuring their child understands the nature and consequences of his actions. This also highlights a flaw in the judicial system, which often turns a blind eye to such occurrences until the case gains widespread attention through social media.

    To strike the right balance and prevent children from growing into criminals with the belief that they can escape consequences for their actions, parents should be more vigilant and assertive in monitoring their child's behavior. As per a study published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence it was found that adolescents who reported higher levels of parental monitoring were less likely to engage in delinquent behavior[4]. In the present case, if the parents had exercised more control over acts of heavy drinking and rash driving, they could have prevented such grave harm to society.

    It's not solely the responsibility of judicial bodies and officials for the grave injustice inflicted upon the two innocent lives. It's not merely an accident but a consequence of parental actions, a flawed system, negligent authorities, and societal failures.Striking the right balance in treating a child as one while ensuring they understand the nature of their "adult" actions when they behave as such is crucial in our current world.

    1. mid-20s.https://www.apa.org/monitor/2022/07/feature-neuroscience-teen-brain

    2. https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/813313#:~:text=The%2015%2D%20to%2020%2Dyear,as%20shown%20in%20Table%203.

    3. https://ojjdp.ojp.gov/sites/g/files/xyckuh176/files/action/sec1.htm=

    4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6732128/

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