justice, law, court

SHILPA MITTAL V. STATE OF NCT DELHI AND ORS. (2020)

FACTS:

  • A juvenile ‘X’, aged 16 to 18, is accused of committing an offense punishable under section 304 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC), which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment or up to ten years in prison and a fine in the first part and up to ten years in prison and a fine in the second part.
  • The appellant’s brother was one of the victims in the car accident. At the time of the occurrence, the Juvenile was between the ages of 16 and 18. The Children’s Court rejected the appeal in a similar fashion. After then, juvenile “X” went to the High Court of Delhi through his mother, who ruled that the offence in question did not fall under the jurisdiction of section 2 of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015, because no minimum term had been established for it. The sister of the deceased has now appealed to the Supreme Court.
  • Sections 2(33), 2(45), and 2(54) define heinous, minor, and serious offences, respectively . Heinous offences are those for which the sentence is a minimum of 7 years in prison or more under the IPC or any other applicable law.
  • Siddharth Luthra, the appellant’s attorney, drew the court’s attention to the Juvenile Justice Act’s omission of the fourth category of offences, which includes homicide not amounting to murder, for which the minimum sentence is less than 7 years or for which there is no minimum sentence prescribed but the maximum sentence can be more than 7 years (offense of present case). He succeeded in convincing the Court to eliminate the word “minimum” from the definition of “heinous crimes,” allowing all crimes to be classified as “heinous crimes,” with the exception of minor and serious offences.
  • He further asserted that the lawmakers could not have intended for absurdity to come from leaving out the fourth category of accusations.
  • The juvenile’s accomplished senior attorney Mukul Rohtagi argued that the court could not change the statute. He said that because a category of offences was left out, the Court could not discern the legislative intent and could not intervene to fill the Act’s void.

ISSUES RAISED

  • What does Section 2(33) of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 mean and how is it interpreted?
  • What ambiguity does the word “minimum” in the Statute cause, and how is it used?
  • How can a type of offence that is not specifically included in the law but that the appellant claims should be included as an offence be applied to a juvenile?

CONTENTIONS RAISED

  • APPELLANT
  • The appellant argued that the Act of 2015 did not cover all types of offences, alleging that the “minimum” term for severe crimes is seven years or more.
  • It was claimed that the Legislature did not intend for the excluded category to bring about absurdity. The claim was that the Act was vague due to a gap in it and did not, therefore, identify anything.
  • Additionally, it was asserted that the phrase “includes” was used in the definition of “heinous offenses” to imply that the definition is inclusive and incorporates items that are not listed there.
  • RESPONDENT
  • The attending attorney contended that the Court was not in a position to amend the law and that the Court could not infer the Legislature’s intention only from an offence category that was not stated.
  • It was asserted that this was not possible in this case, even if the court had to close the gap in the Act.

RATIONALE

  • One of the most important factors in determining the thought underlying a judgement is the justification, or ratio decidendi. The Juvenile Justice Board must carry out a preliminary examination to determine the child’s mental and physical capacity to commit the crime, as well as the child’s ability to comprehend the consequences of the crime and the circumstances in which the crime was allegedly committed, in accordance with Section 14 of The Children Act, 1960. If the child offender has committed a heinous crime. The Board may seek the advice of seasoned psychologists, psychosocial workers, or other subject-matter experts. The declaration makes it clear that neither the trial’s merits nor the child’s allegations will be the subject of the preliminary evaluation.
  • Additionally, section 15 of The Children Act, 1960 states that: (1) The child must be tried as an adult in accordance with the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (2 of 1974), and appropriate orders must be made following the trial, subject to the provisions of this section and section 21, while also taking into account the child’s special needs, the principles of a fair trial, and maintaining a child-friendly environment; 2) The Board may undertake an investigation and give pertinent instructions in accordance with section 18(2) without requiring the child to be tried as an adult.  The Children’s Court must make sure that the final order for a child in trouble with the law has a unique care plan for the child’s rehabilitation, which may include follow-up by the probation officer, the District Child Protection Unit, or a social worker.
  • Only one of the five defendants in Dr. Subramanium Swamy And Ors v. Raju[1] through the Member Juvenile Justice… was not given a death sentence by the session court on March 28, 2014, according to the Member Juvenile Justice… The petitioners sought in their appeal that the juvenile be tried and sentenced along with the other four offenders. A first appeal was filed, and the Delhi High Court rejected it. The Supreme Court rejected a different appeal that was submitted. As a result, the Supreme Court rejected Dr. Subramanian Swamy’s application. The court also dismissed the writ filed by the victim’s parents.

 DIFFERENCE OF OPINION BETWEEN THE JUVINILE JUSTICE BOARD, SUPREME COURT AND HIGH COURT

Whether or not the child should be tried as an adult was the key issue before the court. The juvenile who committed the crime in this instance was over the age of 16 but under the age of 18.

  • JUVINILE JUSTICE BOARD-The Juvenile Justice Board mandated that the child be punished as an adult because his actions qualified as a “severe” offence. After the juvenile justice (care and protection of children) act of 2015’s Section 2 (33) was not followed, the mother of the child filed a case with the High Court.
  • HIGH COURT-According to the High Court, a child can get an adult-like sentence for any terrible crime, such as rape or murder, that carries a sentence of more than seven years. An appeal to the Supreme Court was filed after it was determined that the order was inconsistent.
  • SUPREME COURT- It was decided that the fourth category of offences, which carry a penalty of more than seven years but no minimum punishment or sentence of less than seven years, is exempt from the provisions of this Act. As a result, this is referred to as a “severe offence” within the meaning of this Act. Unless the Parliament itself deals with the matter, it must be handled in accordance with this protocol.

DEFECTS OF LAW AND SUGGESTIONS

  • The problem at hand goes beyond just improving how the “fourth category” of offences is included in the JJ Act of 2015; rather, it is seen through this perspective. The Legislature may have left room for interpretation, which could be used against them in similar situations in the future. The complainant may become discouraged and despondent with the justice system if the legislature fails to recognise the offences that fall between serious and heinous offences and render judgments that fall well short of what the complainant had anticipated from the justice system.
  • Due to the subjectivity of the phrases “grievous” and “severe,” the author of this paper is unable to offer an opinion on where this fourth category of offences should be imbibed. The court’s decision to not change the legislation for the reasons stated remains fair. The author believes that if there had been a minimum penalty duration specified, the problem posed in this case could have been avoided.
  • This causes me to emphasise the significance of the Malimath Committee’s (Committee on Reforms of Criminal Justice System) 2003 recommendation and the Madhav Menon Committee’s 2008 affirmation of the legislative guideline for sentencing policy. Because only the maximum or minimum punishment is specified for an offence, the judges have a great deal of discretion when deciding on a sentence, which they will use in accordance with their own judgement. Therefore, the implementation of a consistent sentencing policy may be useful to close the gaps in the problem posed by this case and similar ones.

CONCLUSION AND INFERENCE

  • The bench’s argument that if it did not address the problem, the Boards would have no guidance on how to deal with children who have committed fourth-category offences is decided to be on point after assessing the circumstances in the current case while conceding that the court cannot legislate. “Since two positions are plausible, we would prefer to select the one that is in favour of children,” the court declared. The bench used its constitutional jurisdiction under Article 142 to mandate that all children who committed fourth-category offences be treated the same as those who committed serious offences as of the date the 2015 Act went into effect. However, there are certain significant changes that need to be made to the BOOKS OF JUSTICE.
  • The saying “Salum Populi Suprema Lex”—which means “the welfare of society is the highest law”—is well known, but in the most recent case, the court sadly did not apply it. I don’t think the accused will change after being sent to a reform facility since his parents may be able to “buy the system totally” despite being aware of his numerous transgressions. In my opinion, the Apex Court’s decisions merely serve to encourage young people to commit crimes. The NIRBHAYA CASE is a prime illustration of this.

SHRAVASTI YADAV

GUJARAT NATIONAL LAW UNIVERSITY

BA LLB (2ND YEAR STUDENT)

2021 – 26


[1] Dr. Subhramanium Swamy And Ors vs Raju through the Member Juvenile Justice, SC (2014) 8 SCC 390.

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