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Explained: What Happens To Order Of Conviction When Juvenility Of Accused Is Proved Under Juvenile Justice Act?

6 March 2023 9:17 AM GMT
Explained: What Happens To Order Of Conviction When Juvenility Of Accused Is Proved Under Juvenile Justice Act?

Under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, a person accused of an offence at any stage can raise a claim that he or she was a minor on the date of the commission of offence. The court is legally bound to order an inquiry to determine the age and if the claim of juvenility is proved, the accused is to be forwarded to the Juvenile Justice Board for appropriate orders. The sentence, if already passed in the case by the trial court, is deemed to have no effect once it is proved that the accused was juvenile on the date of commission of offence.

In November 2022, the Delhi High Court set aside the life sentence of a murder convict in a case dating back to 1999 after he took the plea of juvenility during the pendency of his appeal and the ossification test revealed that his age was between 10 to 20 years on the day of incident. In similar instances, courts have freed the convicts years after they were sent to jail by the trial courts, only on the ground that they were juveniles when they had committed the crime.

The Supreme Court last week considered the question - what happens to the order of conviction when a claim of juvenility is declared successful, as it came across some decisions where both the conviction and sentence were set aside by the Supreme Court in such matters.

In July 2013, the Supreme Court in Jitendra Singh @ Babboo Singh & Anr Versus State of U.P. ruled that when a juvenile is found guilty of the offence alleged to have been committed by him, he simply cannot go unpunished. It held that the punishment must be left to the Juvenile Justice Board.

However in February 2019, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court set aside both the conviction and sentence in a rape case. In April 2019, a similar approach was followed by a double bench of the apex court.

With respect to the judgments, the Supreme Court last week said that there was no prior discussion on the issue whether conviction was required to be set aside or not on this technical ground in the verdicts. "Merits of the conviction were not gone into. No ratio is laid down in the said case on this issue. Only while granting relief, conviction has also been set aside,” said the court.

The bench of Justice B.R. Gavai, Justice Vikram Nath and Justice Sanjay Karol said Section 9 of the 2015 Act “does not specifically or even impliedly provide that the conviction recorded by any Court with respect to a person who has subsequently after the disposal of the case found to be juvenile or a child, would also lose its effect rather it is only the sentence if any passed by the Court would be deemed to have no effect.”

The court further observed that the intention of the legislature was to give benefit to a person who is declared to be a child on the date of the offence only with respect to its sentence part.

“If the conviction was also to be made ineffective then either the jurisdiction of regular Sessions Court would have been completely excluded not only under section 9 of the 2015 Act but also under section 25 of the 2015 Act, provision would have been made that on a finding being recorded that the person being tried is a child, a pending trial should also be relegated to the JJB and also that such trial would be held to be null and void,” added the court.

It further said that merits of the conviction could be tested and the conviction which was recorded cannot be held to be vitiated in law merely because the inquiry was not conducted by JJB.

“It is only the question of sentence for which the provisions of the 2015 Act would be attracted and any sentence in excess of what is permissible under the 2015 Act will have to be accordingly amended as per the provisions of the 2015 Act. Otherwise, the accused who has committed a heinous offence and who did not claim juvenility before the Trial Court would be allowed to go scot-free,” said the court.

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