A bone ossification test alone cannot be conclusive proof of a person’s age and courts must conduct an “independent inquiry” to ascertain an accused person’s claim of juvenility, the Bombay high court recently ruled.
“The ossification test cannot be considered conclusive proof of the age of the person who is subjected to it as it includes a margin of error. And judges cannot place implicit reliance on the results of such test,” the high court observed.
The court was hearing a plea filed by a Sewree resident accused of kidnapping and murder. The applicant, Shailesh Yadav, had filed the plea challenging a sessions court order that had rejected his claim of juvenility.
Yadav was arrested with three others on charges of kidnapping and murdering a 24-year-old man in March 2015 and then throwing the victim’s body off the Vakola flyover to make the crime seem like an accident.
After the police filed a charge sheet in the case, Yadav filed an application in the sessions court claiming that he was a juvenile at the time of the incident. He claimed that he was born in 1998 and was seventeen-year-and-four month-old at the time, and thus could not be tried as an adult.
The sessions court however, rejected his application after a panel at the JJ Hospital conducted a bone ossification test for Yadav and, with a little margin for error, concluded that his age at the time of the incident was between 18 and 19 years.
Yadav, however, approached the HC challenging the sessions court order. He also submitted his school leaving certificate in HC to buttress his claim.
Justice Sadhna Jadhav of the HC, who was presiding over Yadav’s plea, agreed with the prosecution that a trial court could not merely rely upon the documents produced by the accused but that it must base its conclusion on some “material and statements which are recorded before it”.
She, however, observed, “The ossification test cannot be considered a conclusive proof of the age of the person as it includes margin of error. The learned counsel for the petitioner rightly submits that the JJ Act mandates that any judge before whom an application raising claims of juvenility is made, must conduct an independent inquiry. The sessions court ought not to have placed implicit reliance on the bone ossification test results.”
Justice Jadhav sent Yadav’s plea back to the sessions court directing it to conduct a fresh probe within 30 days and stayed the framing of charges in the case till then.