The Delhi High Court on Wednesday observed that scrutiny, inspection and analysis is a must while examining the question of determination of age of the accused under Juvenile Justice Act, 2015.
Justice Chandra Dhari Singh added that the issue of determination of age is one that requires to be given due significance and forethought, especially in cases where the Accused is close to the borderline age to be declared as a juvenile.
"The law provides a degree of immunity to those who meet the age eligibility requirements under the JJ Act, 2015. This immunity becomes even more imperative when the protection and safety of a child, who may be under eighteen years of age, is in question," the Court said.
"The JJ Act, 2015, aims at rehabilitation and reformation of the children subjected to the provisions of the Act and sets out to provide proper care, protection, development, treatment, social re-integration of the children who may be tried in accordance with the Act and hence, it reflects the intention of the Legislature that protection of children is a significant concern to be accommodated while proceeding under the Act and hence, an enhanced degree of caution and attention needs to be given. Caution is all the more imperative when there have been instances where the Accused claiming to be a juvenile was found out to be of more than 30 years of age according to the medical examination. Hence, scrutiny, inspection, examination and analysis become a must while examining the question of determination of age of the accused," it added.
The Court was dealing with a criminal revision petition filed by one Vishal challenging the Trial Court order which had dismissed his application under Section 7A of the Juvenile Justice (Care & Protection of Children) Act, 2000 read with Section 94(ii) of JJ Act, 2015.
Vishal was arrested in the year 2018 when he had claimed to be of 19 years. Since no record relating to his birth was produced before the Metropolitan Magistrate at the time of remand, the Investigating Officer had filed an application for an ossification test. After the ossification test was conducted, as per the Medical Examination, Vishal was found to be aged about 20 years at the time of his arrest.
An application was then moved by him relying on a birth certificate issued by the Gram Panchayat on the basis of self-declaration given by his father, according to which Vishal's date of birth was indicated as 4th May 2001, suggesting that he was aged about 17 years, 5 months and 24 days on the date of the commission of offence i.e. on 29th October 2018.
The Trial Court, vide order dated 8th September 2021 summoned his school records and the principal was examined. However, he was unable to depose as to the year in which the same was prepared.
Taking into consideration the documents and evidences on record, the Court had dismissed the application, order of which was subject matter of the criminal revision.
At the outset, the Court noted that all the documents produced by Vishal came into existence only after his arrest. Therefore, the documents produced before the Trial Court in order to determine his age "might have been manipulated" and thus, the reliance on medical examination was the correct recourse by the Trial Court.
"In the instant Petition, it is apparent that the concerned Investigating Officer had exhausted his options under Clauses (i) and (ii) of sub-section 2 of Section 94 of JJ Act, 2015, before he filed the application for the ossification test of the Petitioner/Revisionist to determine his age at the time of his arrest. It is a different fact that the birth certificate issued by the Gram Panchayat and the school admission records came into existence after two years of the said medical examination, nevertheless, the situation at the time of the arrest of the Petitioner/Revisionist was where the Investigating Officer did not have any other option that to have the medical examination and ossification test conducted," the Court ordered.
The Court was also of the view that the the issue of age was brought before the Trial Court after about two years of the arrest of the Revisionist and by that time, his ossification test had already been conducted when his age was found to be around 20 years at the time of commission of offence.
The Court also observed that an enquiry into the validity of the documents was not in violation of the provisions of the Act and therefore, the documents produced before the Trial Court in order to determine the age of the Revisionist might have been manipulated.
Accordingly, the Court concluded thus:
"In the present matter, too, the school admission register summoned by the learned Trial Court was filled with irregularities and shortcomings which were corroborated with the inability of the principal of the school to make a statement regarding the same. Such a document which could not have been substantiated by either the parties or the witnesses summoned was rightly not admitted and relied upon the learned Trial Court to determine the age of the Petitioner/Revisionist."
Upholding the impugned order, the Court dismissed the petition.
Case Title: VISHAL @ JOHNY v. STATE (NCT OF DELHI)