A Joint Statement has been issued by the legal luminaries in India, expressing their concerns over the Juvenile Justice Bill.
The Joint Statement says, “We, the members of legal fraternity charged with the responsibility of ensuring rule of law based on the principle of justice equity and good conscience, condemn violence against women but do not believe that sending the children to jail is the way to curtail it. However, we are very concerned that this Bill that will destroy the future of young children forever and will be detrimental to the safety to women or society as well is being pursued despite the double rejection of the proposal for exclusion of children younger than 18 years from the purview of juvenile justice by the government appointed Committees themselves. We appeal to the Government and Parliamentarians to reexamine this Bill by holding wide consultations for inclusion of restorative justice to strengthen the existing juvenile justice system instead of the punitive approach contained in the Bill.”
The Statement has been issued by the Vice Chancellors/Chancellors of the 15 Law Universities throughout the country. It has been supported by Vice Chancellors of Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia National Law University, Lucknow; National Law School of India University, Bangalore; NALSAR University of Law Hyderabad; National Law University, Jodhpur; Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab; National University of Advanced Legal Studies, Kochi; National Law University Odisha; National Law University & Judicial Academy, Assam; O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat; Indian Law Institute (Deemed University), New Delhi; West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences; Damodaram Sanjivayya National Law University, Visakhapatnam and Maharashtra National Law University. Chancellor of Central University of Haryana and Prof. Shamnad Basheer also endorsed and supported the joint statement.
Prof. (Dr.) Faizan Mustafa, Vice Chancellor of NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad expressed his agreement with the statement and said, “Transfer of a child from juvenile justice to adult system is as severe as imposition of death penalty as it is a decision to end his life; the decision to send a juvenile to adult system is a decision to end his childhood.”
According to Prof. (Dr.) Gurdip Singh Bahri, Vice Chancellor, Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, Lucknow, “Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill, 2014 merits re-examination by the Government and Parliamentarians as the Bill twists, tortures and completely bends human rights jurisprudence and squarely violates Convention on the Rights of the Child.”
Endorsing the statement, Prof. (Dr.) Shikrishna Deva Rao, Vice Chancellor, National Law University Odisha, said, “I endorse the statement in solidarity to make juvenile justice system more humane, progressive and realizing commitments of Convention on Rights of Children.”
Vice Chancellor of O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat expressed his support and said, “I would like to express my complete solidarity and support to the enclosed statement. The Bill in its current form undermines some of the fundamental principles of rule of law and natural justice that our society had struggled for years to uphold. Further, it is likely that the law in its current form, if passed will be challenged for its constitutionality in our courts. I believe that there are enough grounds for this law to be invalidated. Hence, it is important for all those who are committed to human rights, access to Justice and fairness should support and endorse this statement.”
Vice Chancellor of Maharashtra National Law University, Dr. Bhavani Prasad Panda not only endorsed the concern for the juveniles from 16-18 but pleaded for “all the young adults up to the age of 21years to be housed exclusively with the Borstal School System.”
The ghastly gang rape of Nirbhaya, involving a juvenile, led to questioning of the efficacy of juvenile justice system to deal with 16-18 year old juveniles committing serious offences. Two government-appointed committees by two different governments, namely, the Justice Verma Committee and the Parliamentary Standing Committee, have since then examined the matter threadbare. Both these Committees in very clear and certain terms have rejected the proposals asking for lowering the age of juvenility from 18 to 16 years and sending children below the age of 18 years to prison.
Justice J.S. Verma Committee that included a woman judge and the former ASG devoted pages 253 – 259 exclusively to the question of reduction of age of juveniles. It noted that “all the women's organizations, the academics and a large body of thinking people have viewed this incident both in the criminological as well as societal perspective”.
It opined that the three years term in the special home was sufficient to cause “correction with respect to the damage done to the personality of the child.” It did not favor long term imprisonment for children as there was little assurance that “the convict would emerge a reformed person, who will not commit the same crime that he was imprisoned for (or, for that matter, any other crime).” Opposing jail sentences to children it noted, “Our jails do not have reformatory and rehabilitation policies. We do not engage with inmates as human beings. We do not bring about transformation. We, therefore, breed more criminals, including juveniles, in our prison...” Noting the decrease in the recidivism rate from 8.2% in 2010 to 6.9% in 2011, it did not feel inclined to reduce the age of a juvenile to 16 years. It also examined the findings of the neuroscientists, decisions of American Supreme Court based on the findings of the neuroscientists to reach the unanimous conclusion that “the material before is sufficient for us to reach the conclusion that the age of ‘juveniles’ ought not to be reduced to 16 years.” The future course of action suggested by the Committee was:
“To ensure that the constitution of the Child Welfare Committee, Juvenile Justice Board, the infrastructural facilities in a home, the quality of food, the quality of counseling and psychotherapy required for a child to wipe out the scars of abuse and deprivation in early childhood and to mainstream him/her in society and to educate him/her fully requires a deeper and profound engagement of the State and civil society.”
The Department-Related Parliamentary Standing Committee of the Ministry of Human Resource Development headed by the BJP MP in its 264th Report on the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill, 2014 tabled on 25th February 2015 in Parliament, pointed out the various provisions contained in the Bill that violate the Constitution and India’s obligation under the Convention on the Right of the Child. The PSC severely criticized the Ministry’s intent to enact a new law, “which radically changes the legal framework in respect of juveniles aged between 16-18 year olds accused of committing ‘heinous offences’ without any rational basis.”
Preeti Jacob from NIMHANS, Bengaluru, said: "Juveniles are less culpable and are much more amenable to rehabilitative efforts and thus should not be transferred to the adult criminal justice system. The assessments that are being proposed in the bill in order to ascertain the mental capacity to commit an offence are arbitrary and unscientific."
Mohua Nigudkar from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and former member of Juvenile Justice Board said that "in her experience it is possible to reform juveniles irrespective of the offence they commit".
After the Cabinet gave its approval to the Juvenile Justice Bill, 2014 in April this year, the Lok Sabha passed the Bill earlier this month. The Bill provides for trial of juveniles aged between 16 and 18 years to be tried as adults for heinous crimes.