SC agrees to hear PIL relating to juvenile culpability and mental maturity

SC agrees to hear PIL relating to juvenile culpability and mental maturity

The Supreme Court on Wednesday agreed to hear a PIL [Special Leave Petition (Criminal) 1953 of 2013] demanding that a juvenile's culpability should be determined on his mental maturity rather than physical age.

The Petition filed by Dr. Subramanian Swamy seeks court trial of the 17-year-old juvenile accused in the Nirbhaya gang rape case and demanded a fresh interpretation of the term juvenile saying instead of 18 years age limit, the "mental and intellectual maturity" of such offenders be considered while fixing their culpability.

Swamy appearing in person, argued that in the objects of the Juvenile Justice Act, it is stated that it was being enacted in pursuance to the UN convention on the rights of a child but what in effect emerged was a curtailed version in which the crucial aspect of the mental and intellectual level of the juvenile accused did not find any mention.

Swamy contended that the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act (JJA) provides for a "straitjacket" interpretation of term juvenile that a person below the age of 18 years is a minor and the present interpretation of term juvenile has the effect of "nullifying" the fundamental right to life of the victim.

However, Additional Solicitor General Siddharth Luthra opposed any fresh judicial adjudication on the age of juveniles on the ground that the Apex Court has already decided a bunch of petitions rejecting pleas to lower the age of juveniles to 16.

Luthra cited Salil Bali judgment which pointed out that there was no data to support public perception, formed after the gruesome Nirbhaya gang rape, on spurt in heinous crimes involving juveniles.  It had said reformation was more important for juveniles than attaching a permanent criminal tag on them.

However a, bench consisting of Chief Justice P Sathasivam and Justices Ranjana P Desai and Ranjan Gogoi agreed to hear the matter.

Luthra continued with his objections and questioned Swamy’s Petition on the ground that as a third party, he did not have a locus standi to intervene in a criminal matter, which is between the state and the accused. The court said it would also decide issues relating to locus standi and maintainability of the PIL on August 14.