The Supreme Court on Monday sought to know from the Centre if courts could ascertain the maturity of a juvenile offender, aged between 16 to 18 years to decide whether such an accused should face trial under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) or the special juvenile law.
A bench headed by Justice BS Chauhan issued notice to the Ministry of Women and Child Ministry on a petition filed by the parents of the 23-year-old woman who was gang-raped and murdered by six persons including a juvenile last December.
The SC did not agree with the parents’ plea to issue notice to the juvenile accused in their daughter’s case who faced proceedings under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2000 or JJ Act and was sent to a reformatory home for three years – maximum punishment under the special law. It also refused to entertain their plea challenging the constitutional validity of the JJ Act.
However, the court said it would examine their petition with regard to a limited question: whether courts should get the discretion to decide whether a juvenile offender should face trial before a competent criminal court instead of the juvenile board after ascertaining his maturity and whether the offender understood heinous offences such as murder or rape.
The court fixed January 6, 2014, as the date of the next hearing.
It told the petitioners’ counsel to keep ready “the portion” of the case records, including the victim’s statements, implicating the juvenile offender.
“American jurisprudence gives discretion to the court. Unfortunately we haven’t adopted it. India is party to so many international conventions and that is why this special law was brought in,” the bench observed during the hearing. The court noted it would be improper to say the whole JJ Act was bad.
In their petition, the parents asked the SC to declare the JJ Act unconstitutional as it puts a blanket ban on the criminal court’s power to try a juvenile offender under the IPC.
They even want the juvenile accused of their daughter’s rape and murder to be tried under the IPC under which the maximum punishment is death. While the juvenile was sent to a reformatory home for three years, his accomplices were found guilty of gangrape-cum-murder under the IPC and were sentenced to death earlier this year.