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Juvenile Justice Act : Age Recorded By JJ Board Or CWC Deemed To Be True Age Of Accused - Supreme Court

Srishti Ojha
21 Nov 2021 4:30 AM GMT
Juvenile Justice Act : Age Recorded By JJ Board Or CWC Deemed To Be True Age Of Accused - Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court has held that for the purpose of the Juvenile Justice Act 2015, the age recorded by the Juvenile Justice Board or the Child Welfare Committee of the person so brought before it will be deemed to be the true age of the person.A Bench comprising Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice BV Nagarathna has made the observation while delivering its judgement in a plea...

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The Supreme Court has held that for the purpose of the Juvenile Justice Act 2015, the age recorded by the Juvenile Justice Board or the Child Welfare Committee of the person so brought before it will be deemed to be the true age of the person.

A Bench comprising Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice BV Nagarathna has made the observation while delivering its judgement in a plea challenging Allahabad High Court's order sustaining the judgment of the District & Sessions Court as well as of the Juvenile Justice Board declaring the accused a juvenile delinquent.

In the present matter, victim of the crime had approached the Supreme Court challenging the declaration of the accused as a juvenile, arguing that the matriculation certificate can't be a conclusive document for determining the age of the juvenile irrespective of other material discrepancies in the oral testimony of the witnesses or other documents being produced.

The Bench has held that the deeming provision Section 94 (3) of the JJ Act, 2015 is significant inasmuch as 'the controversy or the doubt regarding the age of the child brought before the Committee or the JJ Board is sought to be set at rest at the level of the JJ Board or the Committee itself'.

"The age recorded by the Committee or the Board to be the age of the person so brought before it shall for the purpose of the JJ Act, 2015 be deemed to be the true age of the person. The deeming provision in sub-section (3) of section 94 of the JJ Act, 2015 is also significant inasmuch as the controversy or the doubt regarding the age of the child brought before the Committee or the JJ Board is sought to be set at rest at the level of the JJ Board or the Committee itself"

According to the Bench, while Section 94 of the Act raises a presumption regarding juvenility of the age of the child brought before the JJ board or the Committee, in case the Board or Committee has reasonable grounds about them being a child or not, it can undertake the process of determination of age by seeking evidence.

Therefore the Bench has held that the presumption of the accused being a juvenile may not be drawn when the Committee or the Board has reasonable grounds for doubt regarding the person brought before it is a child or not.

"Thus, in the initial stage a presumption that the child brought before the Committee or the JJ Board is a juvenile has to be drawn by the said authorities. The said presumption has to be drawn on observation of the child, However, the said presumption may not be drawn when the Committee or the Board has reasonable grounds for doubt regarding the person brought before it is a child or not." the Bench said.

The Bench has also specified the evidence on which the process of age determination can be done by the Board in cases of such doubts:

(i) Date of birth certificate from the school or the matriculation certificate from the concerned board, if available or in the absence thereof

(ii) The birth certificate given by a corporation or by a municipal authority or a panchayat and in the absence of the above

(iii) Age has to be determined by an ossification test or any other medical age determination test conducted on the orders of the committee or the board.

The Bench noted that in the instant case, there is no other document indicating the date of birth of the person contrary to what has been indicated in the matriculation certificate and therefore such a discrepancy in the date of birth does not arise.

While noting that no contra evidence to the documents produced by the second respondent have been produced by the appellant, the Bench refused to differ from the order of the High court.

In the present case, the Juvenile Justice Board had observed that a letter dated 22nd July 2020 issued by the Office of the Administrative Officer, Intermediate Education Council, Meerut, UP, revealed that the date of birth of accused had rightly been recorded as 25.09.2004 in the High School mark-sheet, and he was 15 years and 8 months of age as on the date of the incident.

Through its order dated 11th November 2020, the JJ Board declared the accused as a juvenile delinquent in case for offences under sections 147, 148, 149, 323, 307, 302 and 34 of the Indian Penal Code.

The District and Sessions Court and High Court sustained the Board's order holding that section 94 of the JJ Act, 2015 had been complied with in the instant case inasmuch as the matriculation or equivalent certificate from the concerned Examination Board had indicated his date of birth to be 25.09.2004.

Therefore, it was held by the impugned order that Sub-section 2 of Section 94 of the JJ Act, 2015 applies in the present case as there were no reasonable ground to doubt the said document, and in the absence of there being any evidence to negate the same, the criminal revision was dismissed.

Principles relating to determination of juvenility

The judgment authored by Justice Nagarathna also summarized the principles relating to the determination of juvenility as follows :

(i) A claim of juvenility may be raised at any stage of a criminal proceeding, even after a final disposal of the case. A delay in raising the claim of juvenility cannot be a ground for rejection of such claim. It can also be raised for the first time before this Court.

(ii) An application claiming juvenility could be made either before the Court or the JJ Board.

(iia) When the issue of juvenility arises before a Court, it would be under sub-section (2) and (3) of section 9 of the JJ Act, 2015 but when a person is brought before a Committee or JJ Board, section 94 of the JJ Act, 2015 applies.

(iib) If an application is filed before the Court claiming juvenility, the provision of sub-section (2) of section 94 of the JJ Act, 2015 would have to be applied or read along with sub-section (2) of section 9 so as to seek evidence for the purpose of recording a finding stating the age of the person as nearly as may be.

(iic) When an application claiming juvenility is made under section 94 of the JJ Act, 2015 before the JJ Board when the matter regarding the alleged commission of offence is pending before a Court, then the procedure contemplated under section 94 of the JJ Act, 2015 would apply. Under the said provision if the JJ Board has reasonable grounds for doubt regarding whether the person brought before it is a child or not, the Board shall undertake the process of age determination by seeking evidence and the age recorded by the JJ Board to be the age of the person so brought before it shall, for the purpose of the JJ Act, 2015, be deemed to be true age of that person. Hence the degree of proof required in such a proceeding before the JJ Board, when an application is filed seeking a claim of juvenility when the trial is before the concerned criminal court, is higher than when an inquiry is made by a court before which the case regarding the commission of the offence is pending (vide section 9 of the JJ Act, 2015).

(iii) That when a claim for juvenility is raised, the burden is on the person raising the claim to satisfy the Court to discharge the initial burden. However, the documents mentioned in Rule 12(3)(a)(i), (ii), and (iii) of the JJ Rules 2007 made under the JJ Act, 2000 or sub-section (2) of section 94 of JJ Act, 2015, shall be sufficient for prima facie satisfaction of the Court. On the basis of the aforesaid documents a presumption of juvenility may be raised.

(iv) The said presumption is however not conclusive proof of the age of juvenility and the same may be rebutted by contra evidence let in by the opposite side.

(v) That the procedure of an inquiry by a Court is not the same thing as declaring the age of the person as a juvenile sought before the JJ Board when the case is pending for trial before the concerned criminal court. In case of an inquiry, the Court records a prima facie conclusion but when there is a determination of age as per sub-section (2) of section 94 of 2015 Act, a declaration is made on the basis of evidence. Also the age recorded by the JJ Board shall be deemed to be the true age of the person brought before it. Thus, the standard of proof in an inquiry is different from that required in a proceeding where the determination and declaration of the age of a person has to be made on the basis of evidence scrutinised and accepted only if worthy of such acceptance.

(vi) That it is neither feasible nor desirable to lay down an abstract formula to determine the age of a person. It has to be on the basis of the material on record and on appreciation of evidence adduced by the parties in each case.

(vii) This Court has observed that a hyper-technical approach should not be adopted when evidence is adduced on behalf of the accused in support of the plea that he was a juvenile.

(viii) If two views are possible on the same evidence, the court should lean in favour of holding the accused to be a juvenile in borderline cases. This is in order to ensure that the benefit of the JJ Act, 2015 is made applicable to the juvenile in conflict with law. At the same time, the Court should ensure that the JJ Act, 2015 is not misused by persons to escape punishment after having committed serious offences.

(ix) That when the determination of age is on the basis of evidence such as school records, it is necessary that the same would have to be considered as per Section 35 of the Indian Evidence Act, inasmuch as any public or official document maintained in the discharge of official duty would have greater credibility than private documents.

(x) Any document which is in consonance with public documents, such as matriculation certificate, could be accepted by the Court or the JJ Board provided such public document is credible and authentic as per the provisions of the Indian Evidence Act viz., section 35 and other provisions.

(xi) Ossification Test cannot be the sole criterion for age determination and a mechanical view regarding the age of a person cannot be adopted solely on the basis of medical opinion by radiological examination. Such evidence is not conclusive evidence but only a very useful guiding factor to be considered in the absence of documents mentioned in Section 94(2) of the JJ Act, 2015.

Case Title: Rishipal Singh Solanki vs State of UP& Ors

Citation : LL 2021 SC 667

Click here to read/download the judgment



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