Dr. Subramanian Swamy & Ors. v. Raju, through member, Juvenile Justice Boards & Anr.

Through this case analysis you will learn about the juvenile accused in the Nirbhaya case who was sought to be tried like other accused, and when an authoritative verdict on the definition of 'juvenile' was required, the Apex Court upheld children aged 18 years and below as juveniles.
CITATION(2014) 8 SCC 390
COURTSupreme Court of India
JUDGES/CORAMJustice P. Sathasivam, Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Shiva Kirti Singh
DATE OF JUDGEMENT28.03.2014

Introduction

The heinous crime committed in the late hours of Delhi winters in 2012 shocked the nation and saw hue and cry from various parts of the country. More attention was given due to the involvement of a minor amongst the five rapists. The Nirbhaya case is still engraved in the hearts and minds of people though it has been almost 8 years to the incident.

Facts

The facts of the case are as follows: On 16.12.2012 a young lady of about 23 years was brutally gang-raped by 5 persons in a moving bus and thereafter she was thrown out of the bus. She succumbed to her injuries soon after the incident.

The five persons were apprehended in connection with the crime. One of them, Raju, was below 18 years of age on the date of commission of the crime. Accordingly, in compliance with the provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000 his case was referred for inquiry to the Juvenile Justice Board. The other accused were tried in a regular sessions court and were found guilty, inter alia, of the offences under Section 376 (2)(g) and Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The majors were sentenced to the death penalty as confirmed by the High Court of Delhi.

While the Juvenile Justice Board was in possession of the matter, the Petitioners had filed applications to implead them and enable them to ‘prosecute’ the juvenile alongside the public prosecutor. The Petitioners also claimed that, on a proper interpretation of the Act, the juvenile was not entitled to the benefits under the Act but was liable to be tried under the penal law of the land in a regular criminal court along with the other accused. Accordingly, the Petitioners filed a Public Interest Litigation before the High Court of Delhi. The Court dismissed the same and so, they applied to the Juvenile Justice Board, which was again dismissed.

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The Petitioners finally approached the Supreme Court by way of a Special Leave Petition (SLP) against the order of Delhi High Court dismissing their application. In parallel, the parents of the deceased young lady also filed a writ petition before the Supreme Court praying that the JJ Act be struck down as unconstitutional and void insofar as it puts a blanket ban on the power of criminal courts to try a juvenile offender for offenses committed by him/her under the Indian Penal Code; and, that Raju be tried by a competent criminal court. Thus, the SLP and writ petition were clubbed together in the present case.

Issues

The main issue in the case was: Whether or not the age limit of 18 years, as imposed by the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000 should be removed.

Summary of court decision and judgment

The Delhi High Court declined to entertain the PIL on the ground that the Petitioners should proceed on the remedy given under the Juvenile Justice Act. In the SLP and writ petition before the Supreme Court, the Court upheld the age limit of 18 years to treat persons as ‘juvenile’. The juvenile, Raju, was sentenced to three years at a reformatory home, by the Juvenile Court.

Analysis

The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for Administration of Juvenile Justice (Beijing Rules) were adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1985. Rule 2.2 (a) defines a juvenile as a “child or young person who, under the respective legal system, may be dealt with for an offense differently than an adult”. In tandem, Rule 4.1 sets out that the Member States must refrain from fixing a minimum age of criminal responsibility that is too low, bearing in mind the facts of emotional, mental, and intellectual maturity. Rule 17 provides the guiding principles of adjudicating matters involving juveniles as:

  • The reaction shall always be proportional to not only the circumstances and the gravity of the offense, but also to the circumstances and needs of the juvenile as well as to the needs of society;
  • Restrictions on personal liberty of the juvenile shall be imposed only after careful consideration and shall be limited to the possible minimum;
  • Deprivation of personal liberty shall not be imposed unless the juvenile is adjudicated of a serious act involving violence against another person or of persistence in committing other serious offenses and unless there is no other appropriate response;
  • The well-being of the juvenile shall be the guiding factor while considering his case.

Another international document on juveniles is the Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1990 (CRC). Article 1 of the CRC defines “child” as a person less than 18 years unless the majority under national legislation is attained earlier. Article 37(a) of the Convention prohibits the imposition of capital punishment and life imprisonment on offenders below 18 years of age.

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The above were some reasons pursuant to which the Juvenile Justice Act was amended in the year 2000 by putting a uniform age to delineate juveniles among males as well as females as 18 years. The Statements of Objects and Reasons of the JJ Act make it amply clear that the Act was enacted to give full and complete effect to the country’s obligations arising from India being a signatory to the Beijing Rules, UN Convention and Havana Rules. Furthermore, the Act must be interpreted and understood to advance the cause of the legislation and to confer the benefits of the provisions thereof to the category of persons for whom the legislation has been made.

The Petitioners by way of the SLP wanted an authoritative pronouncement of the true effect of the provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act. In other words, they wanted the Court to adjudicate the definition clause of the Act.

The Court held that the meaning of the Juvenile Justice Act was plain and unambiguous and the legislative intent was clear that all persons below the age of 18 were put in one class/group by the Act to provide a separate scheme of investigation, trial and punishment for offenses they commit.  This was done to further and effectuate the views of the international community which India shared by being a signatory to various conventions and treaties.  The Court went on to hold that the Constitution does not forbid such categorization where the broad features of the class are identifiable and distinguishable and the categorization made is reasonably connected with the object targeted. 

I believe this decision is consistent with the CRC. The Preamble recognizes the need to extend particular care to the child. In particular, it cites the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, which provides that “the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection”, as well as the Beijing Rules relating to the administration of juvenile justice. The differences of minors in physical and psychological development compared with adults constitute the basis for the lesser culpability of children in conflict with the law and a separate juvenile justice system.

Also Read  M/S Shabnam Hashmi v. Union of India & Ors.

Conclusion

The rape and assault case remains one of the historical cases in India. The above case, though correctly decided (in my opinion), generated a lot of criticism and protests. But the case judgment remained crystal.