The Delhi High Court recently set aside the life term awarded to a murder convict by a trial court 18 years ago after an ossification test revealed that the convict was a minor when the incident took place in 1999.
The ossification test, an age determination test based on the assessment of the bone framework, showed that the age of the convict was between 10-20 years at the time of the incident, pursuant to which a division bench of Justice Mukta Gupta and Justice Anish Dayal in its November 23 judgment held that the convict was a minor when the alleged murder took place.
Setting aside only the order of sentence, the high court held, “Considering the fact that the upper age limit cannot be taken to the detriment of the appellant and as per the lower limit, the appellant was a minor at the time of alleged incident, he is entitled to the benefit of juvenility. The appellant was convicted for offences punishable under Sections 302/452 IPC as noted above. Maintaining the conviction of the appellant for the said offences, which is not being challenged on merits before this court, the order on sentence is set aside.”
On the trial court’s conviction, the high court observed that the “conviction of the appellant, for offences punishable under Sections 302/452 IPC will have no disqualification at any stage against the appellant in terms of Section 24 of the Juvenile Justice Act”.
The high court was hearing the plea of a convict, who had challenged a 2004 judgment of a trial court convicting him for murder and house trespass for hurt or wrongful restraint under the Indian Penal Code as well as the order sentencing him to life imprisonment, along with a fine of Rs 2,000.
The convict took the plea of juvenility under Section 9(2) of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, while his appeal against the trial court order was pending before the high court. Under the plea, the convict sought the determination of his age at the time of the alleged offence.
He cited a 2009 decision of the Supreme Court in the Hari Ram Vs. State of Rajasthan and Anr. case which held that the “benefit of the increase of the age of the juvenility to 18 years introduced by the Act of 2000 will apply retrospectively”. The plea of juvenility entails that if a person claims that he or she was juvenile at the time of the commission of the offence, then, the court shall make an inquiry, take such evidence as may be necessary to determine the age of the person, and record a finding on the matter, stating the age of the person as nearly as may be. As per the 2009 apex court judgment, the claim of juvenility can be raised before any court, at any stage, even after the final disposal of the case (retrospectively).
While determining the convict’s claim, keeping in view the said mandate, the high court remanded the matter back to the trial court to determine the age of the convict on November 6, 1999 – the date of the alleged incident.
According to the provisions of the JJ Act, the age determination process entails seeking evidence by obtaining “(i) the date of birth certificate from the school, or the matriculation or equivalent certificate from the concerned examination Board, if available; and in the absence thereof; (ii) the birth certificate given by a corporation or a municipal authority or a panchayat; (iii) and only in the absence of (i) and (ii) above, age shall be determined by an ossification test or any other latest medical age determination test conducted on the orders of the Committee or the Board: Provided such age determination test conducted on the order of the Committee or the Board shall be completed within fifteen days from the date of such order”.
The high court found that in the convict’s case, neither the date of birth from the school first attended nor the matriculation certificate nor the birth certificate was available. Hence, the only recourse to ascertain the age was by seeking medical opinion from the duly constituted medical board which was done by the trial court.
The high court went through the ossification report recorded as additional evidence by the trial court which revealed that the convict’s age was somewhere between 30 and 40 years on December 18, 2019. “In this regard, Dr Daya Ram Haldwani (CW1), Dr Swati Gupta (CW2), Dr Monisha Pradhan (CW3) and Dr Priya Kumar (CW4), members of the medical board which conducted physical, radiological and dental as also orthopedic examinations of the appellant, were examined and cross- examined by the appellant. The appellant (convict) also had submitted his Aadhaar card and PAN card whereby his date of birth was mentioned as 1st January 1983. However, the said documents were not on the basis of any record from the school or municipal authority,” the judgment records.
The high court found that if the age of the convict under the ossification test is between 30 to 40 years as on December 18, 2019, then on November 6, 1999 (the date of the incident), the convict was between 10 years to 20 years.