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SC commences hearing on fresh interpretation of term juvenile

January 28, 2014 20:36 IST

The Supreme Court today commenced the final hearing on the pleas seeking fresh interpretation of the term 'juvenile' in the statute and leaving it to the criminal court, instead of the Juvenile Justice Board, to determine the juvenility of an offender in heinous crimes.

Two petitions were filed by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy and parents of the victim of December 16 gang rape, who have challenged the constitutional validity of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2000.

Swamy, who commenced the arguments before a bench headed by chief justice P Sathasivan, contended that the Act provides for a "straitjacket" interpretation of the term 'juvenile' that a person below the age of 18 years is a minor and it was in violation of the United Nations Convention for the Rights of the Child and Beijing Rules on the issue.

The UNCRC and Beijing Rules say the presumption of "the age of criminal responsibility" be fixed while "bearing in mind the mental and intellectual maturity" of the offender, he said.

Swamy said he was neither seeking lowering the 18 years limit set in JJA nor his plea is individual-centric and the reference of the juvenile, one of the accused in the December 16 gangrape case, in his plea was merely an illustration.

He said with the age of consent in sexual intercourse being lowered to 16 years, in rape offences, 18 years has to be realistically and purposely construed by considering the "mental and intellectual maturity" of minor offenders  while fixing their culpability.

The Centre opposed the plea of Swamy saying that the spirit of the special Act like JJA cannot be challenged and the BJP leader was making an attempt to reinterpret the definition of juvenile.

It said the JJA did not talk about the offences in the penal code and has been enacted for minor offenders.

The BJP leader claimed that JJ Bill was hurriedly passed and enacted, without discussion, in Parliament on December 30, 2000, though in the Preamble to the Act, it was affirmed to implement the ratified UNCRC while adhering to the Beijing Rules.

"The impugned current straitjacketed interpretation of juvenile as anyone under the age of 18 years under the JJ Act thus could lead to anomalies, and absurdities," he said and elaborated by saying that it has the effect of encouraging terrorists to choose a 17 year 11 months person to become a suicide bomber.

"Thus the poor and careless drafting of the Act has obvious left gaps in the wording of the relevant clauses of the Act and hence it does not faithfully implement the ratified Convention as required under Article 253 of the Constitution or adhere to the Beijing Rules as required in the Preamble to the Act nor reflects the intention of Parliament judged by the Objects and Reasons for the Act.

"To prevent serious miscarriage of justice and anomalies in the application of the statute, such as in dealing with terrorist crimes, the gaps in drafting the statute have to be rectified by judicial intervention," he submitted.

The apex court will also examine the plea by the father of the gangrape victim that the juvenility of an accused needs to be ascertained by a criminal court and not by the Juvenile Justice Board.

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