Questions on accused seeking minor shield

New Delhi, Dec. 29: A murder charge carrying the death penalty has been slapped on the six accused but one might walk free after three years if he is able to establish the claim of juvenility.

The minor may, at the worst, face a maximum of three years in a reformatory home under the Juvenile Justice Act.

The minor has been sent to a remand home, pending determination of his age. He was subjected to an ossification (bone) test today to determine his plausible age.

The police said it was the minor who was the most aggressive among the rapists and took the initiative to bolt from inside the door of the private bus to facilitate the brutality that followed.

The savagery has prompted some to wonder if an accused should be shown leniency just because he has not turned 18.

At least one senior counsel felt that the law ' not the heinous nature of the crime ' must be the deciding factor. "Of course, they are not escaping the law. There is a punishment for them but the punishment is less. There is an existing law under the Juvenile Justice Act; he will face punishment. If he is awarded the maximum punishment, he will suffer three years of incarceration in the remand home," senior counsel Colin Gonzalves said.

Gonzalves disagreed with the view that the law should be amended to withdraw immunity granted to young offenders.

"It is Parliament which has decided in its wisdom that a person committing the offence under 18 years should be treated differently. You should not go by the fact that a particular offence is heinous. However much you want him to be treated like other criminals, you cannot," he added.

Jayant Bhushan, another senior lawyer, said one option could be to explore if the age limit for granting immunity should be lowered to 16. It is for Parliament to take the decision, he added.

Till 2000, under the original Juvenile Justice Act of 1986, only those aged below 16 were granted immunity from prosecution under the IPC. In 2000, Parliament raised the cut-off age to 18.

"But the law is very clear that irrespective of the heinous offence, a juvenile cannot be treated on a par with other criminals under the Indian Penal Code (IPC)," Bhushan pointed out.