Supreme Court agrees to examine definition of juvenile

The issue created a debate in the wake of the brutal gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old medical student in a moving bus.

NEW DELHI: The apex court has accepted a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking to examine the validity of the law in the Juvenile Justice Act that treats a person as a minor till he or she attains the age of 18 years.

The Supreme Court accepted a PIL, which challenges some of the provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act.

The issue created a debate in the wake of the brutal gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old medical student in a moving bus on the night of December 16 last year as one of the accused of the six was proved to be a minor under the Juvenile Justice Act.

Attorney General G E Vahanvati was asked by the apex court to assist on the issue raised in a petition, which seeks to strike down the definition of juvenile from the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act.

After hearing the Attorney General's arguments, the apex court asked the government to file a detail rely before April 3, as it would examine the Constitutional validity of the Act on that date.

"The Supreme Court heard the attorney general arguments. After admitting our petition, it has asked the government to file a detail rely. The issue will be heard on 03rd April, in which the honourable court will consider our plea," said Sukumar, the petitioner.

The Act, which states that a person will be treated as a minor till he attains the age of 18 years, will ensure the offender - who was the most brutal in the gang - will get away with a comparatively lenient punishment.

Union Minister P Chidambaram said the issue of reducing the age for a certain crime is debatable.

He said, "Criminal law cannot apply in retrospective. Whatever changes we make they will apply to crimes made post making the law and will not apply to crimes that have already occurred, that is the constitution of the country."

"If the family of the victim demanded that the Juvenile Act should be amended, I can understand their sentiment, but opinions differ. Opinions are so divergent then we should kept that aside for the time being and discuss it in Parliament," he added.

Chidambaram conceded that the policing in the country needs huge reforms and that the police needs to be made gender sensitive, a consideration included in the proposed bill.

On death penalty, he said, "Death penalty remains debatable. In India the death penalty applies only in the rarest of rare cases."

The ordinance on sexual harassment passed by the Indian government on Monday was not a hurried decision, said the Union Minister while emphasising that nothing from the Justice JS Verma was excluded in the draft.

"As we were expected to be prompt, we have brought this ordinance. Marital rape a difficult issue in which we need more consultations. Some clauses like AFSPA need more discussions," said Chidambaram.

Government ready to discuss the bill

The Union Minister further opined that the proposed bill is not definitive and that the government is open for discussions on it in the parliament when the next parliamentary session commences.

He said, "There will be debate, consultation with political parties, which will give ample opportunities to reflect broadest perspective. The government wishes to assure everyone that further consultations will take place."

Chidamaram clarified some of the uncertainties pertaining to the proposed bill.

"It is not correct to say that Justice Verma Committee report has not been accepted. The ordinance is only the starting point of legislative process. Justice Verma also agreed to the 22 clauses put in ordinance yesterday," he said.

"The death penalty exists in Indian law for several offences. The Supreme Court says where death is a punishment it can be awarded in rarest cases, we have kept that principle. One where the rape is followed by injury that causes death, causes the person in a vegetative state, or repeats the crime of rape." (With inputs from Agencies)