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Getting An Impression That Leniency Towards Juvenile Offenders Is Emboldening Them To Indulge In Heinous Crimes : Supreme Court

Ashok KM
16 Nov 2022 2:11 PM GMT
Getting An Impression That Leniency Towards Juvenile Offenders Is Emboldening Them To Indulge In Heinous Crimes : Supreme Court
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We have started gathering an impression that the leniency with which the juveniles are dealt with in the name of goal of reformation is making them more and more emboldened in indulging in such heinous crimes, the Supreme Court remarked in a judgment seting aside the orders of the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Kathua and the Jammu and Kashmir High Court which held that one of the accused in the Kathua rape-murder case was a juvenile.

The bench of Justices Ajay Rastogi and J B Pardiwala observed that the rising rate of juvenile delinquency in India is a matter of concern and requires immediate attention.

The case relates to the brutal gang-rape and murder of an eight year old girl in Kathua village in 2019. In June 2019, a Special Court at Pathankot had sentenced three men to life imprisonment in the case. The Court also sentenced three police officers to 5 years imprisonment for causing destruction of evidence. The trial of Shubham Sangra was shifted to the Juvenile Justice Board. Shubham Sangra was the nephew of main accused Sanji Ram, who was the caretaker of the temple where the offence took place. The Supreme Court had transferred the trial of the case from Kathua to Pathanktot in Punjab in view of the obstruction of justice by lawyers, who protested against the police arresting the accused.

Later, on the basis of Physical Dental & Radiological Examination of the accused (Shubham Sangra), the Special Medical Board opined that the approximate age of above individual is above nineteen years (19 +). Sangra then filed an application in the Court of the CJM, Kathua under Section 8 of the Jammu and Kashmir Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2013 for determination of his claim as a juvenile. This application came to be allowed. The Jammu & Kashmir High Court upheld the said order of the CJM.

Setting aside the orders which held that the accused was a juvenile, the Apex court bench held that the accused was not a juvenile at the time of commission of the offence and should be tried the way other co-accused were tried in accordance with the law. In this regard, the court made the following observation:

Thus, it is no doubt true that if there is a clear and unambiguous case in favour of the juvenile accused that he was a minor on the date of the incident and the documentary evidence at least prima facie establishes the same, he would be entitled to the special protection under the Juvenile Justice Act. However, when an accused commits a heinous and grave crime like the one on hand and thereafter attempts to take the statutory shelter under the guise of being a minor, a casual or cavalier approach while recording as to whether an accused is a juvenile or not cannot be permitted as the courts are enjoined upon to perform their duties with the object of protecting the confidence of a common man in the institution entrusted with the administration of justice... The benefit of the principle of benevolent legislation attached to the Juvenile Justice Act would thus be extended to only such cases wherein the accused is held to be a juvenile on the basis of at least prima facie evidence inspiring confidence regarding his minority as the benefit of the possibilities of two views in regard to the age of the alleged accused who is involved in grave and serious offence which he is alleged to have committed and gave effect to it in a well-planned manner reflecting his maturity of mind rather than innocence indicating that his plea of juvenility is more in the nature of a shield to dodge or dupe the arms of law, cannot be allowed to come to his rescue.

As a parting comment, Justice Pardiwala who authored the judgment made this observation:

"There is a school of thought, existing in our country that firmly believes that howsoever heinous the crime may be, be it single rape, gangrape, drug peddling or murder but if the accused is a juvenile, he should be dealt with keeping in mind only one thing i.e., the goal of reformation. The school of thought, we are taking about believes that the goal of reformation is ideal. The manner, in which brutal and heinous crimes have been committed over a period of time by the juveniles and still continue to be committed, makes us wonder whether the Act, 2015 has subserved its object. We have started gathering an impression that the leniency with which the juveniles are dealt with in the name of goal of reformation is making them more and more emboldened in indulging in such heinous crimes. It is for the Government to consider whether its enactment of 2015 has proved to be effective or something still needs to be done in the matter before it is too late in the day."

Case details

State of Jammu & Kashmir vs Shubam Sangra | 2022 LiveLaw (SC) 965 | CrA 1928 OF 2022 | 16 Nov 2022 | Justices Ajay Rastogi and JB Pardiwala

For Appellant(s) Mr. Shailesh Madiyal, Adv. Mr. Parth Awasthi, Adv. Mr. Vinayaka S Pandit, Adv. Mr. Vaibhav Sabharwal, Adv. Mr. Shailesh Madiyal, AOR Ms. Taruna Ardhendumauli Prasad, AOR

For Respondent(s) Mr. Nitin Sangra, Adv. Mrs. Pragya Baghel, AOR Mr. Sourabh Tandon, Adv.

Headnotes

Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 - The benefit of the principle of benevolent legislation attached to the Juvenile Justice Act would thus be extended to only such cases wherein the accused is held to be a juvenile on the basis of at least prima facie evidence inspiring confidence regarding his minority as the benefit of the possibilities of two views in regard to the age of the alleged accused who is involved in grave and serious offence which he is alleged to have committed and gave effect to it in a well-planned manner reflecting his maturity of mind rather than innocence indicating that his plea of juvenility is more in the nature of a shield to dodge or dupe the arms of law, cannot be allowed to come to his rescue. (Para 72)

Juvenility Claims - Age Determination Techniques - There are better techniques available and are used for determination of age across the world. For example, the United States Immigration Department uses 'wisdom teeth' technique for determination of age - Another technique is 'epigenetic clock' technique - Such techniques should be introduced in our country as well. (Para 75)

Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 - Rising rate of juvenile delinquency in India is a matter of concern and requires immediate attention - We have started gathering an impression that the leniency with which the juveniles are dealt with in the name of goal of reformation is making them more and more emboldened in indulging in such heinous crimes - It is for the Government to consider whether its enactment of 2015 has proved to be effective or something still needs to be done in the matter before it is too late in the day. (Para 79)

Kathua rape-murder case - SC sets aside the orders of the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Kathua and the Jammu and Kashmir High Court which held that one of the accused in the Kathua rape-murder case was a juvenile - The accused was not a juvenile at the time of commission of the offence and should be tried the way other co-accused were tried in accordance with the law. Law to take its own course.

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