Questioning the rationale that led Parliament to pass a new Juvenile Justice Bill, that lowers the age of juveniles who can be tried as adults from 18 to 16 years in cases of heinous offences, former National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) chairperson Justice K G Balakrishnan said the rights panel had opposed the move.
Speaking to The Sunday Express, the former Chief Justice of India, who demitted the office of NHRC chief early this year, said the rights panel had sent its opposition in writing to the government.
“Our objection was based on government data only. We felt it would prove to be a counter-productive step,” he said.
“We told the government that reducing the age from 18 to 16 years would be against the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which India ratified in 1992. We also said that at 16 years, the boy is still a child who is in his formative years. If he is sent to jail, after trial in an ordinary criminal court, there is no likelihood of any reformation and he would come out a hardened criminal. So, we said we should be very careful before reducing the age to 16 years,” he said.
“A village boy of 16 years, what maturity can we attribute to him? In a well-educated family of fair means, 16 years may be a good age. But the same cannot be true in the case of ordinary, poor citizens,” he said.
“We had also cited a number of other reasons why it should not be done. The data shows that the number of serious crimes in which juveniles between the age of 16 and 18 years are accused is not very high, except in a couple of states. In most states, the percentage of people in this age group committing crimes is not so serious as to warrant a legislation at this stage. That was what we had said in the report,” said Justice Balakrishnan.
Paving the way for a new juvenile system in which the age of criminal culpability will now be 16 years, subject to some conditions, the Rajya Sabha passed the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill, 2015, earlier this week.
Asked if the Parliament had erred in passing the legislation, although there were many MPs who wanted it to referred to a select committee, he said, “We can’t attribute things like unreasonableness, illegality, etc to parliamentarians. They have passed the legislation and it will become the law. But our view was that it should be sent to a select committee for further deliberation.”
Would it have been better if the Bill had been referred to a select committee? “We had said so. Every enactment, if it is given to a committee, it (the committee) will consider all pros and cons, look at all evidence before finalising its report. Important legislation that affect the serious rights of citizens may be sent to a select committee for a better law.”
To a question on whether he was of the view that the Rajya Sabha passed the Bill in a hurry, under mounting public pressure in view of the release of the juvenile (now adult) convict in the December 16, 2012 Delhi gangrape case, the former CJI said, “Every law is a reflection of popular opinion. But the only thing that needs to be considered is that the law is just and is not passed only because public urge is there. We amended Sections 376, 354 only after popular urge. But nobody questioned it.”