Law Ministry approves changes in Juvenile Justice Act, includes provision to try juveniles as adults in grievous crimes

Law Ministry approves changes in Juvenile Justice Act, includes provision to try juveniles as adults in grievous crimes

The Juvenile Justice Act amendment draft has been approved by the Law Ministry. The draft has been circulated by Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad to the Ministries to be approved by the Cabinet.

The draft was sent to the Law Minister by the Women and Child Welfare Minister Maneka Gandhi on Tuesday.  She’ll now have to wait for at least 15 days for the suggestions to come in before she could present the note to the Cabinet.

According to the draft, if children between 16 and 18 years are accused of crimes under IPC sections 302 (murder), 326A (acid attack), 376 (rape and sexual assault), 376A (rape resulting in death or vegetative state) and 376D (intercourse by management or staff of an institution), the Juvenile Justice Board will have the power to transfer such cases to a regular court to be tried under the Indian Penal Code. In such cases, the juvenile will be treated as adults. However, even in a regular court, no juvenile found guilty of a heinous crime can be sentenced to death or life imprisonment, according to the draft provisions.

Under the current law, a minor convicted for even for the rarest of rare crimes can only be given a maximum sentence of three years under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act, 2000.

The Juvenile Justice Board, under the new provisions, will be given a month to conduct enquiries on the basis of the three parameters laid down by the proposed bill: whether the crime was premeditated, mitigating circumstances and the child’s ability to understand the consequences of such an offence.

A Ministry Official was reported as saying, “Most of the feedback that we have received from people from different sections of society has been in favour of the changes. Only some NGOs had issues. We saw no reason to dilute the provisions. There are enough checks and balances in the proposed bill to ensure that every case of a juvenile accused of a heinous crime in this age group is treated individually and proper enquiries are conducted before the cases are transferred (to regular courts).”

The demands for amendments to the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 (56 of 2000) (JJ Act) have been in the alley for a while now. The protest began in the wake of the brutal Delhi Gang-rape incident, wherein the juvenile who as described as the vilest of the accused, was awarded three year imprisonment, the maximum tenure prescribed under the JJ Act, in a correctional home. The protestors called for more stringent punishment to the offender. Further, the violence witnessed against juveniles has also arisen as an important issue to be addressed as a priority through strengthening of existing provisions and introduction of new clauses in the Act.

In March, refusing to read down the provisions of Juvenile Justice Act to account for the mental and intellectual competence of a juvenile offender, a three  Judge Bench of the Supreme Court comprising Chief Justice P Sathasivam and Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Shiva Kirti Singh refused  to interfere with the age of juvenility in cases where juveniles are found guilty of heinous crimes, in a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by Subramanian Swamy.

However, some development in this respect comes in the wake of the Women and Child Welfare Minister Maneka Gandhi’s statement, that juvenile who commits rape should be tried as adults. She also said that she is personally working to amend the law so that 16-year-olds are brought out of the purview of the Juvenile Justice Act.

A draft act was introduced in June this year, with the maximum punishment still being 3 years. It placed the onus on authorities to decide the punishment in cases of specific offences, as well as provided a detailed structure for reforming and reintegration of the juvenile with the society.

Read the highlights of the draft here.

Even an apex Court bench comprising of Justice Dipak Misra and Justice V. Gopal Gowda also urged the Government to revisit the Juvenile Law in the country, stating that there can’t be a “cut-off” date for crime. The blanket immunity provided to juvenile offenders, irrespective of the gravity of offence, was opposed by the Bench, advocating to “go by how the neurons are going.”

Read the LiveLaw story here.