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JJ Act: Offences Prescribing Max Sentence Of More Than 7 Years But Not Providing Minimum Sentence Are Not 'Heinous Offences', But 'Serious Offences': SC [Read Judgment]

Ashok Kini
9 Jan 2020 12:19 PM GMT
JJ Act: Offences Prescribing Max Sentence Of More Than 7 Years But Not Providing Minimum Sentence Are Not
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The Supreme Court has observed that an offence prescribing a maximum sentence of more than 7 years imprisonment but not providing any minimum sentence, or providing a minimum sentence of less than 7 years, cannot be considered to be a 'heinous offence' within the meaning of Section 2(33) of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015.

Invoking Article 142 of the Constitution, the bench of Justice Deepak Gupta and Justice Aniruddha Bose held that category of offences viz., offence where the maximum sentence is more than 7 years imprisonment, but no minimum sentence or minimum sentence of less than 7 years is provided, shall be treated as 'serious offences' within the meaning of the Act. 

In this case, juvenile 'X' , who at the relevant time was aged above 16 but below 18 years, was alleged to have committed an offence punishable under Section 304 IPC which offence is punishable with a maximum punishment of imprisonment for life or up to 10 years and fine in the first part and imprisonment up to 10 years or a fine, or both in the second part. The appeal before the Supreme Court is against the Delhi High Court order which held that since no minimum sentence is prescribed for the offence in question, the said offence did not fall within the ambit of Section 2(33) of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015. The sister of the deceased had approached the Apex Court assailing this judgment of the Delhi High Court. In 2016, the deceased lost his life when a speeding Mercedes Benz  driven by the 'juvenile' ran over him.

JJ Act Categorization of Offences

As per the Act, 'Serious offences' means, offences for which punishment under any law is imprisonment between 3-­7 years. 'Heinous offences' have been defined to mean offences for which the minimum punishment under any law is imprisonment for 7 years or more. Both the petty offences and serious offences are to be disposed of by the Board, by following the procedure for trial in summons cases under the Code of Criminal Procedure. In cases of Heinous offences alleged to be committed by a child above the age of sixteen years as on the date of commission of an offence, Section 15 provides that the Juvenile Justice Board can conduct a preliminary assessment with regard to the mental and physical capacity of such child to commit such offence, the ability of the child to understand the consequence of the offence and the circumstances in which the said offence was allegedly committed. If the board finds that there is a need for trial of the child as an adult, he will be tried in a Children's Court.

4th Category of Offences

Before the bench, Senior Advocate Siddharth Luthra pointed out that there is a 4th category of offences where the minimum sentence is less than 7 years, or there is no minimum sentence prescribed but the maximum sentence is more than 7 years. He opined that, by applying the doctrine of surplusage, if from the definition of 'heinous offences', the word 'minimum' is removed then all offences other than petty and serious would fall under the heading of 'heinous offences'. Addressing this argument, the bench said:

Though we are of the view that the word 'minimum' cannot be treated as surplusage, yet we are duty bound to decide as to how the children who have committed an offence falling within the 4th category should be dealt with. We are conscious of the views expressed by us above that this Court cannot legislate. However, if we do not deal with this issue there would be no guidance to the Juvenile Justice Boards to deal with children who have committed such offences which definitely are serious, or may be more than serious offences, even if they are not heinous offences. Since two views are possible we would prefer to take a view which is in favour of children and, in our opinion, the Legislature should take the call in this matter, but till it does so, in exercise of powers conferred under Article 142 of the Constitution, we direct that from the date when the Act of 2015 came into force, all children who have committed offences falling in the 4th category shall be dealt with in the same manner as children who have committed 'serious offences'.  

Disposing of the appeal, the bench said:

An offence which does not provide a minimum sentence of 7 years cannot be treated to be an heinous offence. However, in view of what we have held above, the Act does not deal with the 4th category of offences viz., offence where the maximum sentence is more than 7 years imprisonment, but no minimum sentence or minimum sentence of less than 7 years is provided, shall be treated as 'serious offences' within the meaning of the Act and dealt with accordingly till the Parliament takes the call on the matter.

Parliament May Address The Issue

The Court also asked the Law Ministry and the Home Ministry to ensure that the issue raised in this judgment about the 4th Category of offences is addressed by the Parliament as early as possible or by the Executive by issuing an Ordinance.

Name Of Child In Conflict With Law Should Not Be Disclosed

The bench also noted that the High Court in the impugned judgment had disclosed the name of the 'Juvenile'.  This is not in accordance with the provisions of Section 74 of the Act of 2015, and various judgments of the courts, the bench said while directing the High Court to correct the judgment and remove the name of the Child in Conflict with Law.

Case name: Shipla Mittal vs. State of NCT of Delhi
Case No.: Civil Appeal 34 of 2020
Coram: Justice Deepak Gupta and Justice Aniruddha Bose
Counsel for Appellant: Sr. Adv Siddharth Luthra
Counsel for Respondent: Sr. Adv Mukul Rohatgi and Adv Hrishikesh Baruah

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