SC to examine provision on minors' age in juvenile act

New Delhi, Feb 4 (IANS) The Supreme Court will look into the constitutional validity of provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act under which a person is treated as a minor till he or she turns 18.

While deciding to look into the constitutional validity of the definition of "juvenile" in the act, the apex court bench of Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan and Justice Dipak Misra issued notice to the central government on a petition that has sought the legally defined age of "minor" to be lowered from existing 18 years to 16 years.

The petition filed by advocates Sukumar and Kamal Kumar Pandey sought the apex court declare that certain provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000, were in violation of the fundamental rights as guaranteed under Articles 14 and 21 (equality and liberty) of the constitution.

The issues raised in the petition assume significance in the wake of a minor's alleged involvement in the brutal gang-rape and torture of a 23-year-old woman in Delhi Dec 16, 2012.

Taking up the matter for hearing, the court asked Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati whether the age under the Juvenile Justice Act has any nexus with the gravity of the crime committed by the offender and whether the provisions of the act were not in conflict with the Articles 14 and 21 of the constitution.

The attorney general, who was asked by the court to appear in the case, told the court that it had to be seen why a juvenile offender had done something in conflict with law and whether society had failed to curb such conduct.

Vahanvati said that it should also be looked into whether the trial court should be given the discretion to decide under what provision of law a juvenile offender should be tried in case of heinous offences.

The attorney general also said that the question needs to be answered whether the age limit for shielding a juvenile offender from trial in a court of law should be reduced to 16 or retained at 18 years. At present, the case of an offender up to the age of 18 year is heard by a Juvenile Justice Board.

Vahanvati told the court that Justice J.S. Verma panel, which gave a report on review laws related to crimes against women, dealt with the question of age under the Juvenile Justice Act but did not recommend lowering the age for "minor".

The petition said the "classification/definition for all juvenile offenders up to the age of 18 years, providing blanket cover/protection against all and every offence committed, unmindful of the (nature and gravity of the offence and other factors) is highly irrational".

The petition said that the maturity of mind was not uniform in all children up to the age of 18 years.

The Indian Penal Code under Sections 82 and 83 represents much better classification of children in accordance with their age in respect of the offence committed by them, wherein the child up to the age of 7 years is totally exempted from any criminal liability and in case of children between the age of 7 to 12 years, there is judicial discretion to judge as to the maturity level of the child in respect of the offence committed, the petition said.