Case title: Pawan Kumar v. State of Uttar Pradesh & Ors
Date of Order: 21st November 2023
Bench: Hon’ble Mr. Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul
Hon’ble Mr. Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia
Parties: Appellant: Pawan Kumar
Respondent(s): State of Uttar Pradesh and Ors
The Hon’ble Supreme Court (hereinafter referred to as ‘the Supreme Court’ or ‘the Court’) dealt with the appeal challenging the appellant's claim of being a juvenile at the time of the alleged commission of the crime. The appellant asserts that he was below the age of 16 when the incident occurred, and therefore, he should be treated as a juvenile. This claim, though dismissed by the Trial Court and the High Court, is reconsidered by the Supreme Court, which reviews various documents, including school certificates, to determine the appellant's age at the time of the offense.
The Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC):
The Code of Criminal Procedure, (CrPC):
The Juvenile Justice Act, 1986
The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2000 (2000 Act):
The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2015 (2015 Act):
The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Model Rules (JJ Rules)
On December 1, 1995, a dispute arose when water from the complainant's family irrigating their land flowed into the adjacent field of Gaya Prasad Mishra, the appellant's father.
The appellant, Pawan Kumar, along with co-accused Gaya Prasad Mishra and Gulab Chandra, reported this to their father. Subsequently, the appellant, his father, brother, and another person named Babadeen armed with "lathis" assaulted the complainant's father and brother who were irrigating their land. The complainant and villagers who heard the commotion reached the spot and were also assaulted.
This violent incident resulted in severe injuries to all involved and the death of Ganga Prasad, the complainant's brother.
The FIR filed initially included charges under Sections 307, 504, and 323 IPC, and later, due to the death of Ganga Prasad, Section 302 IPC was added.
The High Court of Allahabad, in its decision in May 2019, affirmed the conviction and the sentence imposed by the Sessions Court.
Out of the 4 accused, accused Babadeen passed away during the trial. Accused Gaya Prasad Mishra and Gulab Chandra were released early from prison after having served more than 19 years, under the State’s remission policy.
Accused Pawan Kumar has appealed in this Court.
Whether the appellant was juvenile at the time of the commission of the offence?
Whether the appellant’s conviction under Sections 302 and 307 read with Section 34 of the IPC valid?
Whether the legal provisions, including those related to juvenility, considering the changes in legislation over time applicable?
ARGUMENTS ADVANCED BY THE APPELLANT:
The appellant was a juvenile during the alleged crime in December 1995, and his plea of juvenility was not considered at the time by the Trial Court.
Before delving into the merits of the case, the appellant’s plea of juvenility must be addressed by the Court as the previous plea was not adhered to the applicable law.
Despite consistent claims of juvenility since the beginning of the trial, both the trial court and the appellate court determined that the appellant was not juvenile at the time of the incident.
ARGUMENTS ADVANCED BY THE RESPONDENT:
The accused was not a juvenile at the time of commission of offence.
As per the Gram Panchayat Officer who produced the Family register, the appellant’s date of birth was recorded as 1975. Therefore, the appellant would have been around 20 years of age.
The Bone Ossification test concluded that the approximate age of the appellant would have been 19 years.
Upon examination of the report dated February 28, 2022, the Court observed that the Trial Court had not considered the appellant’s Transfer Certificate. The issue was sent back to the Additional Sessions Judge for fresh consideration and a new report was directed.
The Court highlighted the pertinent statutory provisions related to the case.
It was ascertained that the age of a juvenile is assessed based on the date of the alleged crime and that the appellant was juvenile at the time, therefore applicable law for juvenile offenders was the Juvenile Justice Act, 1986.
While the appeal was pending before the Allahabad High Court, the 2015 Act, came into force repealing the 2000 Act.
Subsequent to the 2015 Act, detailed Model Rules pertaining to “juvenile in conflict with law” were laid down, known as Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Model Rules, 2016 (JJ rules, 2016).
In the case of Satya Deo alias Bhoorey v. State of Uttar Pradesh (2020), it was held that Section 25 of the 2015 Act has a broad reach. It applies not only to the trial but also to revision or appeal proceedings.
As the appellant’s proceedings were ongoing before the High Court when the 2015 Act came into force, section 25 of the 2015 Act is applicable. Hence, the 2007 Rules are applicable in the present case.
Regarding the determination of the appellant's age, the applicable legal framework includes the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000, and the rules framed therein, specifically the 2007 rules. Rule 12 is particularly significant in this context.
According to the 2007 Rules, the first document considered for age determination is the matriculation certificate. Since the appellant did not have a matriculation certificate, the next relevant document is the school leaving certificate of Primary School, Bhatgawan, which serves as his age certificate.
Both the High Court and the Additional Sessions Judge, in the report dated February 28, 2022, overlooked a crucial aspect, namely the provisions of Rule 12 of the 2007 Rules. Rule 12 of the 2007 Rules is pertinent for age determination in the present case.
Subrule (3)(b) of Rule 12 includes a provision stating that "in the case exact assessment of the age cannot be done, the Court or the Board or, as the case may be, the committee for the reasons to be recorded by them, may, if considered necessary give benefit to the child or juvenile by considering his/her age on the lower side within the margin of one year."
The Court expressed the view that even if there were conflicting aspects regarding the appellant's age, considering the thin margin of age, the benefit specified in Rule 12(3)(b) should have been given to the appellant.
Two certificates were not considered in the latest report by the Additional Sessions Judge- Family Register and Medical Report (Bone Ossification Test).
Under the 2007 Rules, school certificates, especially the school leaving certificate from the first school attended, hold more weight than a Panchayat Register entry. The case of Shah Nawaz v. State of Uttar Pradesh & Anr is cited to support the importance of school certificates in age determination.
The medical report, while indicating an approximate age, is not considered precise for determining age. It was also emphasized that the medical opinion based on the Bone Ossification Test is not entirely accurate, as established in Arnit Das v. State of Bihar.
Even if the medical report indicating the appellant's age as 19 years is accepted as correct, the court, in a situation where an exact assessment of age was not possible, should consider the conflicting reports and documents.
Given the conflicting nature of reports and documents, Rule 12(3)(b) should come into play. This rule states that when an exact age assessment cannot be done, the court may if considered necessary, give the benefit of one year on the lower side.
Therefore, the court accepted the report of the Additional Sessions Judge, Barabanki, and declared that the appellant was a juvenile on the date of the commission of the crime.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court accepted the appellant's claim of juvenility at the time of the offense, overturning the decisions of the Trial Court and the High Court. The Supreme Court partly accepted the appeal regarding the age issue. The appellant, who is currently in jail and about 43 years old, is declared a juvenile by this Court. The sentences awarded to the appellant were quashed in view of section 16 of the Juvenile Justice Act 2000. Considering the Juvenile Justice Act and the fact that he has already spent more than the maximum three-year detention period for juveniles, the court ordered his immediate release, unless he is needed for another crime.