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. It was held by the Court that the provisions of the Act are in compliance with the Constitutional directives and international conventions. The Court further observed that it was not obligatory for a sovereign nation to be commanded by the laws of foreign jurisdictions. The Court held that the classification of juveniles as a special class stood the test of Article 14, and stated that it should restrict itself to the legitimacy and not the inevitability of the laws.
Subramanian Swamy, then president of Janata Party and a parliamentarian, pleaded to the apex court in a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) to consider the emotional, mental and intellectual maturity of the accused juvenile who was 17 at the time of commission of the offence. The legal protection in India provided to those offender less than 18 years of age was challenged by Swamyin his PIL., Additional Solicitor General Siddharth Luthra raised objections to the PIL and cited earlier PILs that sought similar relief but were rejected by a three-judge bench of the apex court, headed by former Chief Justice Altamas Kabir. In his petition, Swamy had argued that notwithstanding the age limit fixed in the definition of a “juvenile” under Section 2 (k) of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000 (Act), it should be supplemented by a restricting statement that while deciding the guilt of the juvenile, the mental and intellectual level of the person would also be taken into account. His submission before the Court was that according to the preamble of the Act, the statute was enacted in consonance with the UN Convention on Rights of Child (UN Convention) but due to poor drafting the child’s mental and intellectual maturity envisaged in the UN Convention was not considered. It was pleaded by Swamy that in case of heinous crimes, there should be no strict rule in determining whether a person is a juvenile or not and that the court should rely on the doctrine of “casus omissus” and read into the law what the Parliament enacted.
Swamy had argued in person, while ASG Siddharth Luthra and ASG Rakesh Khanna appeared for the Union Government. The parents of the Delhi gang rape victim were represented by Advocate Aman Hingorani. The petitions filed by parents also came to be dismissd along with Mr Swamy’s petition. The juvenile accused in the Delhi Gang rape was represented by Senior Advocate Anup Bhambhani.
In the present case there is no difficulty in understanding the clear and unambiguous meaning of the different provisions of the Act. There is no ambiguity, muchless any uncertainty, in the language used to convey what the legislature had intended. All persons below the age of 18 are put in one class/group by the Act to provide a separate scheme of investigation, trial and punishment for offences committed by them. A class of persons is sought to be created who are treated differently. This is being done to further/effectuate the views of the international community which India has shared by being a signatory to the several conventions and treaties already referred to.
Classification or categorization need not be the outcome of a mathematical or arithmetical precision in the similarities of the persons included in a class and there may be differences amongst the members included within a particular class. So long as the broad features of the categorization are identifiable and distinguishable and the categorization made is reasonably connected with the object targeted, Article 14 will not forbid such a course of action. If the inclusion of all under 18 into a class called ‘juveniles’ is understood in the above manner, differences inter se and within the under 18 category may exist. Article 14 will, however, tolerate the said position. Precision and arithmetical accuracy will not exist in any categorization. But such precision and accuracy is not what Article 14 contemplates. The above principles have been laid down by this Court in a plethora of judgments and an illustrative reference to some may be made by recalling the decisions in Murthy Match Works and Others vs. The Asstt. Collector of Central Excise and Another, Roop Chand Adlakha and Others vs. Delhi Development Authority and Others, Kartar Singh vs. State of Punjab Basheer alias N.P. Basheer vs.State of Kerala, B. Manmad Reddy and Others vs. Chandra Prakash Reddy and Others, Transport and Dock Workers Union and Others vs. Mumbai Port Trust and Another.
If the provisions of the Act clearly indicate the legislative intent in the light of the country’s international commitments and the same is in conformity with the constitutional requirements, it is not necessary for the Court to understand the legislation in any other manner. In fact, if the Act is plainly read and understood, which we must do, the resultant effect thereof is wholly consistent with Article The Act, therefore, need not be read down, as suggested, to save it from the vice of unconstitutionality for such unconstitutionality does not exist.
That in certain foreign jurisdictions, details of which have been mentioned earlier to bring about clarity and completeness to the issues arising, the position is otherwise would hardly be of any consequence so far as our country is concerned. Contrary international opinion, thinking or practice, even if assumed, does not dictate the legislation of a sovereign nation. If the legislature has adopted the age of 18 as the dividing line between juveniles and adults and such a decision is constitutionally permissible the enquiry by the Courts must come to an end. Even otherwise there is a considerable body of world opinion that all under 18 persons ought to be treated as juveniles and separate treatment ought to be meted out to them so far as offences committed by such persons are concerned. The avowed object is to ensure their rehabilitation in society and to enable the young offenders to become useful members of the society in later years. India has accepted the above position and legislative wisdom has led to the enactment of the JJ Act in its present form. If the Act has treated all under 18 as a separate category for the purposes of differential treatment so far as the commission of offences are concerned, we do not see how the contentions advanced by the petitioners to the contrary on the strength of the thinking and practices in other jurisdictions can have any relevance.
Read the Judgment