Ryan verdict: A juvenile is a juvenile, say experts
A social investigation and psychological evaluation of the child was done before the board gave its order. However, legal experts feel there cannot be a distinction between delinquent juveniles.delhi Updated: Dec 20, 2017 23:55 IST
The Juvenile Justice Board’s decision to treat the 16-year-old accused in Gurgaon’s Ryan International School as an adult for the murder of Pradhyumn Thakur has reignited the debate on whether juveniles in conflict with law should face trial like adult offenders, as permitted by the amended Juvenile Justice Act.
Pradhyumn, an eight-year-old student of Ryan International School, Bhondsi, was found with his throat slit outside the school’s washroom on September 8. His father filed a petition with the JJB on November 15 seeking trial of the boy as an adult.
He found support from the prosecuting agency, the CBI, which too called the crime chilling, horrific, monstrous and serious in nature.
A social investigation and psychological evaluation of the child was done before the board gave its order. However, legal experts feel there cannot be a distinction between delinquent juveniles.
“A juvenile will be a juvenile, irrespective of the crime committed,” advocate Menaka Guruswamy said.
“The amendment in 2015 was done under public pressure. If you have a law to treat juveniles, it should be applied uniformly and consistently,” she added.
Advocate Karuna Nandy, who was vocal in her criticism when the changes were brought to the law, feels that the Parliament was wrong in passing the law “under public pressure and misunderstanding.”
The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Amendment Act 2015 allows for juveniles 16 years or older to be tried as adults for heinous offences like rape and murder. The law was amended following public outrage after one of the offenders in the December 16, 2012, gang rape case was not tried under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and escaped a jail term because he was a few months short of turning 18.
Nandy says a crime has two components — one is the act of killing and the other is mens rea, which is intention to kill. “A juvenile under the age of 7 doesn’t have the ability to formulate the mens rea. Between 7 and 18 that ability is growing but all neurological, psychological and credible experts agree that the ability is not completely formulated.”
According to her, the law was changed with an incorrect notion that a juvenile’s mental ability suddenly changes when a heinous crime is committed. “This is not the case.”
Senior advocate Sanjay Hegde says the present law does not have enough guidelines for the board to decide when a child should be treated as an adult. “If you treat the child as a juvenile, you are likely to reform him into a responsible adult. But if you treat him as an adult you will only get somebody who is hardened by a long prison sentence. You will at best have a convict with a life sentence and foreclose the possibility of reformation .”
Guruswamy says that the case at hand is of a horrific crime. “I am not debating that. But at the end of the day to have an approach differently for a child involved in a heinous crime is not the correct way to treat him. A proper psychological treatment should be given to him.”
Nandy feels in the present case the juvenile justice board should have set-up a panel of credible experts before arriving at a decision. “In such sensitive cases one should not have random psychologist, but experts such as neurologists and psychiatrists,” she added.