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Key Takeaways

  • Juvenility of a person in conflict with the law has to be reckoned from the date of the offence and not from the date on which cognizance was taken by the Magistrate.
  • JJ Act is a beneficial legislation and a technical plea (like delay in making the claim of juvenility) would not disable a person from making a claim under the Act.
  • The claim of juvenility can be raised even after the final disposal of a case. It can be taken up at any stage and any delay in making such a claim cannot be a ground for rejection of such claim.
  • Courts must not adopt a hyper-technical approach while dealing with the plea of juvenility.

Introduction

Society must be aware and vigilant about the protection of its children because children are the future of the country and ignoring them could have serious consequences. The Legislature of our country has enacted several Statutes to deal with the Children in Conflict with the law and to provide protection to vulnerable children. Through the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, India has also provided a secular law for the Adoption of Children. In this article, I will discuss the landmark judgments delivered by the Hon’ble Supreme Court,on the subject of Juvenile Justice and the Protection of Children.

Landmark Judgments

1. Sheela Barse & Anr. v. Union of India & Ors. [1986 AIR 1773]

This petition was filed in the Hon’ble Supreme Court for getting directions regarding the release of children, below 16 years of age, from jails. The petitioners also prayed for the production of complete information about children in jails, and the existence of juvenile courts, homes, and schools in the country.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court, acting on the petition, directed:

  • State Legal Aid & Advice Board to send two lawyers to each jail within the State once a week to provide legal assistance to children (below 16 years of age), who are detained in prisons.
  • All State Governments to report the number of children's homes, remand homes & observation homes for children in their States, and the number of inmates in each of those institutions.
  • States to properly enforce the ‘Children’s Act’ enacted by them. They must file affidavits to show cause why they are not implementing those Acts.
  • District and Sessions Judges tomake regular visits to the District Jails and to take particular care of child prisoners.

2. Sheela Barse & Ors. v. Union of India & Ors. [1986 SCALE (2) 230]

In this case, the Hon’ble Supreme gave the following directions relating to juveniles:

  • In cases,where a child has been accused of an offence that is punishable with imprisonment of fewer than 7 years, the investigation must be completed within 3 months from the lodging of the FIR and the trial must be completed within 6 months from the filing of the charge sheet.
  • Children must not be lodged in jails under any circumstance. Remand and observation homes must be set up by the State Governments. If there is no accommodation in these remand or observation homes, then the children should be released on bail.
  • To ensure complete uniformity, the Union Government should enact a Children’s Act for the trial of children below 16 years of age and ensure rehabilitation of such children.

3. Pratap Singh v. State of Jharkhand & Anr.

In this case, the Hon’ble Supreme Court held that the juvenility of a person in conflict with the law has to be reckoned from the date of the offence and not from the date on which cognizance was taken by the Magistrate.

4. Hari Ram v. State of Rajasthan & Anr. [2009 SCC 13 211]

Under the Juvenile Justice Act, 1986, the upper age limit for male children to be considered juveniles was 16 years. But, the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 (“JJ Act, 2000”) treats children up to 18 years as juveniles. So, the primary issue before the court, in this case, was, whether JJ Act, 2000 applies to offences that have been committed before the coming into force of the JJ Act, 2000. The court held that upon conjoint reading of Sections 2 (k), 2 (l), 7A, 20, and 49, it is made clear that all the persons who were below the age of 18 years on the date of the commission of the offence even before the enforcement of JJ Act, 2000, would be treated as juveniles. It would be immaterial that the claim of juvenility was raised after the accused attained the age of 18 years.

5. Jitendra Singh @ Babboo Singh & Anr. v. State of U.P. [Criminal Appeal No. 763 of 2003]

In this case, the court held that anyone claiming to be a minor on the date of an offence should make such a claim at the earliest available opportunity before the Trial Court or the High Court. But, if no such claim is made for some reason, then that does not disentitle a person from raising such a claim before the Supreme Court. JJ Act is a beneficial legislation and a technical plea (like delay in making the claim of juvenility) would not disable a person from making a claim under the Act. But, the burden of proof, for making out a prima facie case for directing an inquiry into the plea of juvenility, rests on the person who makes such a claim.

6. Sampurna Behura v. Union of India & Ors. [Writ Petition (Civil) No. 473 of 2005]

This case was primarily related to the implementation of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000, and Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 (“JJ Act, 2015”). The court observed that the children are the future of our country and they must be looked after. So, it issued several directions to ensure proper implementation of the JJ Act, 2015:

  • Central and State Governments must ensure that all the vacancies in the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) and State Commissions for Protection of Child Rights (SCPCR) are filled for the effective functioning of these statutory bodies.
  • State-Level Child Protection Societies and District Level Child Protection Units should take assistance from NGOs and civil society for proper implementation of the JJ Act.
  • State Government must ensure the filling up of all the positions in the Juvenile Justice Boards (JJBs) and Child Welfare Committees (CWCs).
  • JJBs and CWCs must have regular sittings to ensure that there is no backlog of inquiries and children in need of care & protection are being taken care of.
  • National & State Commissions for Protection of Child Rights must take up studies on various societal issues so that the State Government can take remedial steps on those issues.
  • State Governments must appoint the necessary number of Probation Officers for the effective implementation of the JJ Act, after getting reports from the NCPCR and SCPCRs.
  • Special Juvenile Police Units must be set up so that the police can effectively fulfill their role as the first responder on issues arising out of offences committed by or against children.
  • National & State Police Academies must consider including the topics related to child rights in their curriculum.
  • State Governments were advised to ensure that all the Child Care Institutions (CCIs) are registered so that the issues of missing children & trafficking are addressed.
  • Eminent Persons from civil society must be appointed as Visitors by State & UT Governments to monitor & supervise the CCIs.
  • Members of the Juvenile Justice Boards, Child Protection Societies, District Child Protection Units, and Special Juvenile Police Units must be given adequate training and sensitization for the proper implementation of the JJ Act.
  • All the Chief Justices of the High Courtswere urged to consider establishing child-friendly courts & vulnerable witness courts in each district to deal with inquiries under the JJ Act and trials under POCSO Act, etc.

7. Abuzar Hossain @ Gulam Hossain v. State of West Bengal [Criminal Appeal No. 1193 of 2006]

In this case, the Hon’ble Supreme held that:

  • The claim of juvenility can be raised even after the final disposal of a case. It can be taken up at any stage and any delay in making such a claim cannot be a ground for rejection of such claim.
  • The burden of proof for making a prima facie case supporting the claim of juvenility rests upon the person making the claim.
  • Production of any of the documents referred to in Rule 12 (3) (a) (i) to (iii) ofJuvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Rules, 2007,will be sufficient proof to initiate an inquiry regarding the claim of juvenility.
  • Affidavit of the claimant in support of the claim of juvenility, filed for the first time in the appellate court,shall not be sufficient to discharge the burden of proof for initiating an inquiry regarding the claim.
  • The courts must not adopt a hyper-technical approach while dealing with the plea of juvenility.
  • Frivolous claims of juvenility must be rejected.

8. Anjum Abdul Razak Memon vs State of Maharashtra, Through STF, CBI Mumbai [Criminal Appeal No. 1178 of 2007]

In this case, one of the primary issues before the Court was, whether the JJ Act of 2000 prevails over TADA Act, 1987. Both these statutes provide that they will have an overriding effect over any other law in force.The Hon’ble Supreme court observed that the JJ Act aimed to have an overriding effect over laws that were in force on the date of its enactment. TADA had been repealed long back and was not in force when the non-obstante clause was added to the JJ Act. So, the court held that the JJ Act, 2000 would not have an overriding effect on TADA.

9. Jarnail Singh v. State of Haryana [Criminal Appeal no. 1209 of 2010]

In this case, the court held that for the determination of the age of a minor, a reference must be made to Rule 12 of the Juvenile Justice (Care & Protection of Children) Rules, 2007. Furthermore, it observed that even though the procedure mentioned under the aforesaid rule is meant only to determine the age of a child in conflict with the law, it can even be used for determining the age of a child who is a victim of a crime.

10. Salil Bali v. Union of India & Anr. [Writ Petition (C) No. 10 of 2013]

In this case, the petitioners had prayed the court to strike down the provisions of Section 2 (k) of the JJ Act, 2000. This section definesa Juvenile/Child, as a person who has not completed the age of 18 years. The Hon’ble Supreme Court discussed the rationale behind the said age limit and observed that the age of 18 had been fixed based on the understanding of experts in child psychology and behavioral patterns. So, the court dismissed the appeals by noting that no interference was necessary with the provisions of the JJ Act, 2000 till sufficient data is available.

11. Shabnam Hashmi v. Union of India & Ors. [Writ Petition (Civil) No. 470 of 2005]

In this case, the Hon’ble Supreme Court held that due to conflicting viewpoints prevailing between different communities in the country, it was not an appropriate time to declare the right to adopt and the right to be adopted as fundamental rights encompassed by Article 21 of the Constitution.

12. Dr.Subramanian Swamy & Ors. v. Raju Thr. Member Juvenile Justice Board & Anr. [Criminal Appeal No. 695 of 2014]

In this case, the appellant contended that the provisions of the JJ Act, 2000 (specifically, Sections 1 (4), 2 (k), 2 (l), and 7) must be read down to mean that juveniles who are mature enough to understand the consequences of their acts and who commit heinous crimes, must not come under the provisions of the JJ Act.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court observed that ‘reading down’ the provisions of an Act cannot be resorted to when the meaning of those provisions is plain & clear. There is no difficulty in understanding the meaning of the provisions of the JJ Act. The Act has put all persons below the age of 18 in one class/ground to provide a separate scheme of investigation, trial, and punishment for offences committed by them. So, the court does not need to read down the provisions.

13. Parag Bhati (Juvenile) through Legal Guardian - Smt. Rajni Bhati versus State of Uttar Pradesh & Anr. (Criminal Appeal No. 486 of 2016)

In this case, the court held that where any of thedocuments mentioned in Rule 12 (3) (a) (i) to (iii) of Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Rules, 2007 are submitted in support of the claim of juvenility, then that must be considered to be conclusive proof of the date of birth of the accused. But, if there is a doubt and the accused is taking a contradictory stand, then the court could order an inquiry for the determination of the age of the accused. Such inquiry could include a medical examination.

Conclusion

The Hon’ble Supreme Court has delivered a catena of judgments on the subject of Juvenile Justice and Child Rights, interpreting and moulding the law of the land in favour of the Children in Conflict with Law.The Legislature has also done a commendable job by standardizing the law on this subject. Now, the primary task in front of us is to ensure the proper implementation of the law that has been laid down by the courts and the legislature. After all, as Hon’ble Justice S. Ravindra Bhatt said in one of his addresses, the true equity, and justice of the society is how fairly it treats its children.


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