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SC notice to govt on trial of juveniles for heinous crimes

The Supreme Court on Monday sought the views of the central government on a petition of the father of the 16 December gangrape victim Nirbhaya, which sought direction from the court to put the juvenile involved in the case on trial. The petition submits for quashing the provisions of the juvenile law that bans prosecution of juveniles between 16-18 years in heinous crimes.

The father’s petition has said that a criminal court cannot be ousted from judicial function to try juveniles for offences covered under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and has raised the question on who will decide the maturity of an offender who is above 16 and below 18 years of age in matters relating to heinous offences. He has sought to strike down the provisions of Juvenile Justice Act barring criminal courts from trying juvenile offenders as unconstitutional, saying that the juvenility of an accused needs to be ascertained by criminal court and not by the Juvenile Justice Board.

A bench comprising of Justice B S Chauhan and Justice S A Bobde also issued notice to the women and child development ministry and has sought its reply within four weeks. The court has also sought the records including the statement of the victim that implicated the juvenile offender in the brutal gangrape case last December that shocked the conscience of the nation.

The women and child development ministry is said to be drafting a proposal to amend the law to make juveniles above 16 years of age involved in heinous crimes be tried as adults. However, the country’s apex child rights panel NCPCR has opposed the move of the women and child development ministry’s draft proposal to amend the law to make juveniles get treated as adults in heinous crimes. It has said that there cannot be any compromise on the age of a child as defined by the United Nations. The petition has said that the juvenile ‘is liable to be tried and punished by the criminal courts for the aforesaid offences, complete with the judicial discretion on established principles of law regarding the award of sentence keeping in view, amongst other factors, the nature and gravity of the offence’.

The counsel of the victim’s father argued in the court that the legislature lacked powers to interfere with judicial functions and certain provisions of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act be declared as unconstitutional to the extent they put a blanket ban on powers of criminal courts to try a juvenile offender for offences under IPC. The counsel argued that the question of minority of an offender needs to be decided by a criminal court and not by others.

The juvenile in the gangrape case was convicted by the Juvenile Justice Board for gangrape and murder of the paramedical girl. However, he will be out after three years of imprisonment as per the provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act. The juvenile, who was six months short of 18 years at the time of incident last December, was said to be the most brutal among all the accused persons in the gangrape case of the paramedical student in a moving bus in southern part of the city. The girl had later succumbed to her injuries in a Singapore hospital.

There were six accused in the case, including the juvenile. The trial of five adult accused was conducted in a fast track court, which has given death sentence to four of the convicted – Mukesh, Vinay Sharma, Akshay Singh Thakur and Pawan Gupta. Their case is now in the Delhi high court.
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