Sessions Court Cannot Exercise Revisional Jurisdiction In Cases Under Juvenile Justice Law: Delhi HC [Read Order]

Sessions Court Cannot Exercise Revisional Jurisdiction In Cases Under Juvenile Justice Law: Delhi HC [Read Order]

The Delhi High Court, on Wednesday, ruled that a Sessions Court cannot exercise revisional jurisdiction under the Juvenile Justice Act and that such power only lies with the high court.

Justice RK Gauba held, “…in cases involving juveniles in conflict with law, the orders passed by the competent authorities under the special legislation are subject to revisional scrutiny only by the High Court and not by the court of Sessions. To put it slightly differently, by implication, the power of revision in terms of Section 397 read with Section 399 Cr. PC cannot be exercised by the court of Sessions in cases arising out of the Juvenile Justice Act, both of 2000 and 2015.”

The court further asserted that there needs to be a formal system of scrutiny of the credentials of the Magistrates who are considered for appointment as members of Juvenile Justice Boards (JJBs).

According to Section 4 of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015, the Magistrate should have “special knowledge or training in child psychology or child welfare”.The court, however, noted that the manner in which the JJB in the case before it dealt with the evidence on record “smacks of total disconnect with the specialized field of child psychology”.

It then advocated for verification of their credentials and appropriate formal training, observing, “It is desirable that the mandate of the law that only such Magistrates are appointed as members of the Juvenile Justice Board as possess “special knowledge or training in child psychology or child welfare” is strictly and scrupulously followed. 

For this, there is perhaps a need to put in position a formal system of scrutiny of the credentials of the persons whose candidature is considered for such appointment and also for formal training to be imparted to them for building their capacity and sensitization.”

A copy of the judgment was directed to be sent to Director of the Delhi Judicial Academy and the Chief Justice of the high court for appropriate action.

Factual matrix

The case concerned the alleged repeated sodomy of a 7 year old boy by three 15-year-old boys back in 2005. The JJB had acquitted the three accused, of charges under Sections 377 (unnatural offences), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt) and 506 (criminal intimidation) of the Indian Penal Code and provisions of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000.

The JJB had opined that the defence had created probable doubt on the prosecution story through testimony of certain witnesses. The accused had essentially claimed that the boy had falsely accused his seniors.

At this juncture, it may be noted that Section 52 of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000, which was in effect at that time, prohibited an appeal against an order of acquittal of a juvenile. Section 53 of the 2000 Act conferred upon the high court the power and jurisdiction of revision.

While the State did not challenge the JJB’s judgment, the petitioner boy filed a revision petition against the verdict before the Court of Sessions. This was, however, dismissed. The petitioner had now challenged this order of dismissal by the Sessions Court, by invoking the inherent jurisdiction of the high court under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

The petitioner had contended that the JJB’s order is conspicuously silent on the crucial medical part of the evidence. He had further asserted that some witnesses had not been examined, and that the approach adopted by the authorities had led to “serious mis- carriage and travesty of justice”.

The accused had, on the other hand, contended that since there has been a revisional scrutiny by the court of Sessions, the high court should not entertain a second layer of scrutiny under Section 482.

The court, however, opined that it needed to consider whether the court of Sessions could have exercised the revisional jurisdiction qua an order of this nature under the law governing juvenile justice.

Sessions court order was non-est

The court noted that the remedy of revision is provided under Section 397 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, conferring the corresponding power co-ordinately on the high court and the court of Sessions.

It then pointed out that the remedy of revision under the juvenile justice law is provided by Section 53 of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000, which has now been included as Section 102 of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015.

Under both these provisions, it said, reference to revisional power vesting in the court of Sessions has been “conspicuously omitted”. Thereafter, ruling that the court of Sessions is not empowered to exercise such jurisdiction under this special law, it observed,

“To put it simply, and straight, the special law on juvenile justice conceives of revisional scrutiny only by the “High Court” and no other forum. It is trite that if there is a special law governing the subject, the general law will yield to the special legislation. It is the special legislation which prevails.”

JJB verdict “no judgment in the eyes of law”

The court then opined that the JJB’s judgment was “no judgment in the eyes of law”, pointing out several deficiencies in the JJB’s adjudication of the case.

It further refused to accept the defence argument that the petitioner’s word cannot be believed to be true because of his poor performance in school. Emphasising on the scrutiny of any such argument on the touchstone of the psychology of a child who may have suffered sexual abuse, it observed,

“It is but obvious that a child placed in such situation as is alleged would hesitate or be unwilling to attend school and might consequently be unable to perform well, social withdrawal being a direct outcome of sexual abuse…

“…A child victim of sexual abuse cannot be expected to conduct himself in a normal or healthy manner in school which, in his mind, is no longer a place of safety. It would be unfair without deeper probe to hold such conduct or low performance against a child who has faced sexual trauma within the four corners of a school where he is expected to have a secure environment.”

Final directions

Before rendering the final decision, the court recorded its disapproval of the manner in which the statements of the accused were recorded under Section 281 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

“From a Metropolitan Magistrate holding a position of some standing and seniority in judicial service, appointed as Principal Magistrate of Juvenile Justice Board, such record of proceedings is not expected, the loose expressions which have been used and the manner in which the incriminating evidence was put to elicit explanation, it taking the shape more of a notice of accusations (as if the proceedings being held were at the stage of Section 251 Cr. PC), this being reflected by the very first question quoted above, and vague reference to “rest of the investigation evidence”, being wholly uncalled for. 

“It appears that the Magistrate forgot that the incriminating evidence on which attention of the JCLs was to be drawn was to be the one adduced during inquiry held by it and not the evidence that may have been gathered during “investigation”,” it observed.

The order passed by the Sessions court was therefore treated as non-est for want of jurisdiction, and the JJB’s order was set aside.

Directing the JJB to render a fresh decision in the case, preferably within three months, the court therefore ordered, “Given the deficiencies noted above, the Juvenile Justice Board will have the discretion, and the authority, in law, to call for such further evidence as is required. Needless to add, given the deficiencies in the statements under Section 281 Cr. PC, the said proceedings will have to be recorded afresh and this followed by another opportunity for adducing further evidence in defence, if any.”

The JJB was directed to take up the case for further proceedings in compliance with the directions, on January 14, 2019. The accused are expected to appear before it on the said date, accompanied by their counsel.

Read the Order Here