From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : NA
Mains level : Juvenile Justice
- The Supreme Court (SC) made an observation in its judgment of November 16 in the infamous Kathua rape-murder case that the rising rate of juvenile delinquency in India is a matter of concern and requires immediate attention.
Present approach and implications towards Juvenile delinquency
- The goal of reformation: There is a school of thought, that firmly believes that howsoever heinous the crime may be, be it single rape, gangrape, drug peddling or murder but if the accused is a juvenile, he should be dealt with keeping in mind only one thing i.e., the goal of reformation.
- Continuance of crime: The school of thought, we are talking about, believes that the goal of reformation is ideal. The manner in which brutal and heinous crimes have been committed over a period of time by the juveniles and still continue to be committed, makes us wonder whether the [Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children)] Act, 2015 has subserved its object.
- No reformation but more crime: We have started gathering an impression that the leniency with which the juveniles are dealt with in the name of goal of reformation is making them more and more emboldened in indulging in such heinous crimes.
- Criminal trials are not allowed: The law, contained in successive Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Acts (JJ Acts), places a blanket ban on the power of the criminal court to try and punish a person below the specified age for committing any offence.
- Lack of clarity on maturity of person: Should a person, who has sufficient maturity of understanding to judge the nature and consequences of his/her action, get blanket immunity from the criminal process without the fear of being prosecuted, tried and punished, merely because that person is below the specified age?
- Child friendly inquiry: Under the existing law, such a person, at best, could be subjected to a child-friendly enquiry by a Juvenile Justice Board (JJ Board) and reformation for a maximum period of three years in a correctional home.
The issue of maturity of Juvenile offender
- Help of experts to assess maturity: It is well settled that the assessment of whether or not an offender has attained sufficient maturity of understanding to judge the nature and consequences of his/her conduct is to be done by the court with the help of experts, and is a judicial function as exemplified by Section 83 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and Code of Civil Procedure, 1908.
- Judicial discretion was not allowed in JJ Act 2000: The JJ Act 2000 to the extent it deprived the criminal court of the power to try and to punish a person below the age of 18 years for committing an offence, when such a person could be assessed to have attained sufficient maturity to judge the nature and consequences of his/her conduct ,encroached upon the judicial domain and was, therefore, unconstitutional.
- No changes on maturity in JJ act 2015: The current JJ Act, 2015, suffers from the same defect, except that the age of criminal responsibility for heinous offences has been reduced to 16 years.
- Immature send to correctional homes: It has been overlooked that the fundamental premise of juvenile justice law is that a juvenile offender who lacks such maturity should not be sent to a criminal court to be tried for the commission of an offence, and instead, should be sent to a correctional home for reform and rehabilitation.
- Mature juvenile must be punished: Conversely, therefore, should the offender have such maturity, he/she must be prosecuted before the criminal court, tried and, if found guilty, punished. The age of the juvenile offender alone cannot, therefore, justify a blanket immunity from the criminal process rather, the question of such immunity must be assessed on a case-by-case basis depending on the maturity of such offender.
Trying the mature juvenile as adult
- Mature juvenile and adults are not same: Indeed, Section 23 of the JJ Act, 2015 mandates that notwithstanding anything contained in Section 223 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1973 or in any other law for the time being in force, “there shall be no joint proceedings of a child alleged to be in conflict with the law, with a person who is not a child”.
- Separate provision for mature juveniles: Provisions already exist in the JJ Act, 2015, as to how a child who has attained the age of 16 years could be tried and punished for a heinous offence.
- Assessing the maturity of all juvenile irrespective of age: The same provisions could be extended to all juvenile offenders, regardless of age or nature of the crime, once it is found by the competent court that any such offender had sufficient maturity of understanding to judge the nature and consequences of his/her actions.
- Government should amend JJ Act 2015. Such an amendment would go a long way in providing the requisite balance between the rationales underlying the juvenile justice system and the criminal justice system and realizing the objectives professed by both.
Q. What are the flaws with existing Juvenile Justice Act 2015 vis-e-vis maturity of juveniles? How to address the issue mature juvenile and punishment to them?