Within days of release of the juvenile convict in the December 16 gang rape case and the subsequent protest over his release, the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday passed the juvenile justice bill which brought down the age of the juvenile from the existing 18 to 16 years in case of heinous crimes.
Seven months back the Supreme Court had asked the Centre to re-visit the juvenile justice law and make it more stringent, at least in cases of heinous crimes. A bench headed by justice Dipak Misra had said that it was “extremely difficult” to believe juveniles were unaware of the consequences while committing rape, dacoity and murder. The bench had asked the Centre to “re-look, re-scrutinise and re-visit” the relevant provisions under the act.
Justice SN Dhingra, retired Delhi high court judge, said he supported the bill and considered it is “absolutely necessary” to lower the 18 years bar. “The reason is obvious, today’s generation are exposed to all kinds of things including pornography, crime etc. at a very young age. It is quite possible that criminal professional may use only juvenile as their point man. You can train a juvenile to be a contract killer and get away with the crime lightly,” Dhingra said.
Senior advocate Nidhesh Gupta also said the current law was outdated. “When we find heinous crimes being committed by persons who are presently considered as juvenile, it is imperative that the law should adapt itself to bring such person within the scope of the criminal justice system,” Gupta said. “It is also a matter of record that criminal resort to juveniles to carry out penal offences knowing that they will be having a maximum punishment of three years, thus making the juveniles act as agents of hard core criminal,” Gupta said.
On the other hand, advocate Kirti Singh said, “JJ Act is itself a progressive piece of legislation. Instead of tampering with the scheme of the Act, the three-year maximum period at observation or special home can be extended to say eight or 10 years, whichever number of years experts agrees upon.”
“Lowering the age to 16 might end up further brutalising the juvenile, making it difficult of the boy/girl to be rehabilitated in the society,” she added.
Advocate Aishwarya Bhati also viewed that there are other ways of improving the law.
“The current law does not make any provision for judicial discretion depending on the heinousness of the offence,” Bhati said adding that there should not be age-based yardstick on criminal offence.