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Supreme Court urges re-examination of Juvenile Law

Apoorva Mandhani
15 July 2014 7:28 AM GMT
Supreme Court urges re-examination of Juvenile Law
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A Supreme Court bench comprising of Justice Dipak Misra and Justice V. Gopal Gowda has reopened the debate, over the juvenile law in the country. It 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.”

The court said the government allows an 18-year-old to be a voter, mature enough to choose the government. “Keeping this in view, how can a person be exonerated of offences such as rape, murder or under the narcotics law?” it asked.

A juvenile doesn’t mature in a day to take decisions, the court told Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, who relied on India’s adherence to the standards set by the United Nation Convention on Child Rights. The Court advised to look into our Constitutional framework and not be oblivious to the ground reality of the crime that takes place.

The Court was hearing a CBI appeal against a Calcutta high court verdict that declared one of the accused in a murder case a juvenile on the basis of school certificate.

Presently, the Juvenile Justice (Care and protection) Act, 2000 provides for a maximum punishment of three years in a reform home. This provision has seen various protests, after the December 16 gang-rape wherein on the accused was let off with the 3 years punishment. He turned 18 barely 6 months after the brutal crime was committed.

The Court had dismissed a petition filed by the victim’s parents, demanding the juvenile to be treated as an adult offender.

The bench has sought the Centre’s response by September 9.

According to the data released by the National Crime Records Bureau, the incidence of juvenile crime has increased by 17,819 in 2003 to 31,725 if 2013. The incidence of rape committed by minors has also increased from 466 in 2003 to 1175 in 2013 and incidence of murder has increased from 465 in  2003 to 990 in 2012.

India follows the standard laid down by the UN Convention on Rights of Child, which sets out the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children. The Convention defines a child as any human being under the age of eighteen, unless the age of majority is attained earlier under a state's own domestic legislation.

International instruments for the protection of children in conflict with law emphasize the need to observe the principle of proportionality, which means that any reaction to a juvenile offender must be in proportion to his background and nature of the crime committed. It must take into account not just the gravity of delinquent

However, it is also clear that many member States still have a long way to go in achieving full compliance with Committee on Rights of Child (hereinafter referred to as CRC), e.g. in the areas of procedural rights, the development and implementation of measures for dealing with children in conflict with the law without resorting to judicial proceedings, and the use of deprivation of liberty only as a measure of last resort.

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. 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.

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.

The recommendations of the Justice Verma Committee, which was instituted as an aftermath of the gang-rape, to amend the criminal justice act, was however against the reduction of the age ceiling of 18 as the aim of the Juvenile Justice Act is to reform the child offender.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the 6th Annual Hindu Spiritual Fair, Gandhi said her Ministry was also considering setting up more foster care homes where the cost of children’s education would be borne by the government even after their adoption.

The Government of India is also contemplating amendments to the Act, having constituted a review committee under the Ministry of Women and Child Development. The draft provides a comprehensive mechanism to deal with children in conflict with law as well as children who need care and protection. JJ Act has been amended twice, in 2006 and 2011. However, the suggestions have never been this comprehensive. The draft actually provides for repeal and re-enactment of the Act, and rightly so, in the wake of the demands for such amendments. The Ministry has invited comments over the draft till 3rd of July.

Read the highlights of the draft here.

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