In an unequivocal reminder to lawmakers, the Supreme Court on Monday refused to stay the release of the juvenile convicted in the 2012 Delhi gangrape case, noting that his further detention needs a “legislative sanction” while the court has to “go by the law as it stands today”.
“We also share your concerns but we have to go by the law as it stands today. Any further detention would need a legislative sanction. The law is very clear that a juvenile cannot be detained beyond three years… so what kind of interim orders can be passed by us? If you want the court to direct for his further detention, there has to be a clear legislative sanction,” said a bench of Justices Adarsh K Goel and Uday U Lalit.
Dismissing a petition filed by the Delhi Commission for Women (DCW), the apex court also questioned the Centre and Delhi government over their attempts to block the release of the youngest offender, who has now turned 20 after spending three years in a correctional home in Delhi under the Juvenile Justice Act.
Currently with the Rajya Sabha, the proposed amendments to the Act entail a stringent scrutiny of the mental and physical capacity of juveniles offenders aged between 16 and 18 years when they are found involved in heinous crimes.
The delinquent in the gangrape case was a few months away from turning 18 when he, along with five other adult convicts, had raped and fatally assaulted a 23-year-old girl in Delhi on December 16, 2012. Four other convicts, who were handed out the death penalty, have appealed in the top court against the sentence while one died during the pendency of the trial.
Expressing her dismay at the order, Swati Maliwal, who had filed the petition in her official capacity as the DCW Chief, said: “I am extremely disappointed. Today is a dark day in the history of the country. The Rajya Sabha has failed the people of India by not passing the Juvenile Justice Amendment Bill.”
Earlier, as soon as DCW’s counsel Guru Krishna Kumar opened his arguments, the bench asked him: “Are we hearing you for the juvenile or against the juvenile? Are you arguing for his rehabilitation or his detention? You say the juvenile is still to be rehabilitated and there is no plan in place but you are the government. You have to do it. Why are you not doing it?”
Subsequently, when Additional Solicitor General Pinky Anand submitted that the Central government supports the DCW’s plea against the juvenile’s release, especially in view of intelligence reports that he has been radicalised during his stay in the correctional home, the court questioned her: “What stand are you supporting…without changing the law?”
It went on: “Today you say detain him till he is reformed. Reformation is a process that may take seven to ten years. So how many extensions (of detention) can be given if we interpret the law as you want? Why cannot it be more than one? There must be some legislative sanction for all this.”
The court further clarified it has to issue orders within the legal framework and when the letters of the law are clear, there cannot be a case of invoking extraordinary jurisdiction or interpreting the law in a certain way, which may not be in consonance with the statutory provisions.
“There has to be a legislative sanction. We have gone through the provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act and they are very clear that in no circumstances, detention can go beyond three years, including the process for reformation. Further, there is nothing in the Act which says anything contrary to the maximum period of detention provided for,” the bench told DCW’s counsel.
As Kumar sought a liberal interpretation of the Act so as to order for status quo on the release and for setting up of an independent board to examine the juvenile convict’s mental status and post-release rehabilitation plan, the court retorted that no process of interpretation can take away rights of a person under Articles 20 and 21.
Article 20 stipulates no person shall be subjected to a punishment greater than what the law existing at that time provides for whereas Article 21 ensures right to life and liberty.
“Let us not go beyond the statute. Everything has to be in accordance with the law. We are here to enforce the law,” added the bench, declining to interfere with the Delhi High Court’s order last week whereby plea for staying the juvenile convict’s release had been turned down while seeking details of his post-release rehabilitation plan.