An accused claiming to be a juvenile has to be given the benefit of the doubt, and his age should be decided using medical evidence, not merely on what the prosecution argues.
This is what the Bombay High Court insisted earlier this week, when it sent a case back to a trial judge and gave him six weeks to determine the age of Rafiq Ahmed Saeed Ahmed, who claimed he was a minor.
Ahmed was arrested on May 20, in an alleged rioting and murder case.
Ahmed had earlier challenged an order of Malegaon’s additional sessions judge who had rejected his application to determine his age when he had claimed to be a minor.
He had said his date of birth was January 12, 1992, which made him a minor at the time when the alleged offence was committed.
Asking that his case be tried under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000, he submitted his birth certificate and extracts of the birth register.
The prosecution opposed his application, saying the remand report noted his age as 19, and that his bail application described him as a major. On May 22, a sessions court turned down his request.
Ahmed’s advocate A.R. Shaikh told the high court that the Juvenile Act requires the lower court to determine a person’s age based on evidence, and where it is not possible to arrive at a precise estimate, it has to give him or her the benefit of the doubt, by considering the age to be on the lower side, within a margin of one year.
Justice Bobade sent the case back to the trial judge, saying: “The above finding (of the lower court) results in a clear miscarriage of justice… It appears the trial court formed its opinion because the prosecution disputed the contents of the birth certificate and the birth register. This is not permissible.”
“The order has defeated the purpose of the Act, which was to adopt an approach in the best interest of children and for their ultimate rehabilitation,” the high court said.