Pointing out an alarming spurt in involvement of juveniles in heinous crimes, the Supreme Court on Monday sought a categorical response from the Centre on whether it was considering bringing down the juvenile age from 18 years.
A bench led by Justice Dipak Misra also asked whether immunity from prosecution to juveniles should be subjected to the nature of the crime, and whether no absolute protection should be accorded to those involved in grave crimes.
The court’s queries came as Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi submitted that the central government was mulling necessary amendments to the Juvenile Justice Act.
“While dealing with the issue, two suggestions were given to the learned Attorney General, namely, whether there is any kind of consideration as regards the reduction of age, and whether the juvenility will depend upon the nature of offence committed. To elaborate, whether the attention of the Government will be drawn to the prevailing atmosphere that most of the juveniles are engaged in horrendous and heinous crimes like rape, murder, drug-peddling and others,” stated the court order.
It asked the government to come back with its response in three weeks and fixed the matter for hearing on November 24. Under the existing law, a juvenile delinquent, irrespective of the crime, cannot be sent for trial and the Act prescribes a maximum punishment of three years in a reformatory home.
The bench, also comprising Justices Rohinton F Nariman and U U Lalit, was hearing an appeal by the CBI against an accused in a murder case, who was declared to be juvenile by the trial court. The Calcutta High Court had affirmed this finding.
While staying the trial, the bench had questioned if those accused of heinous crimes should not even be put on trial only as they were under 18.
“Why should those just under 18 committing whatever offences, like rape, murder, NDPS (drug cases) be exonerated on the ground of juvenility? Maturity is not attained overnight but gradually,” it had observed.
The court had added, “Go by how the human neurons (nerve cells) are growing. Liberty is not absolute under Article 21. You really cannot have a cut-off date like in service jurisprudence. Democracy rests on the rule of law. Rule of law is the spine. Let us not be oblivious of the crime that takes place.”