Source: The Hitavada      Date: 05 Oct 2017 10:55:44

THE verdict of a Delhi Court upholding an earlier order of the Juvenile Justice Board (JJB) that a 16-year-old boy deserved to be tried as an adult in the case of shooting down of a couple last year, should trigger a deeper thought about the Juvenile Justice Act and the definition of innocence. The present law thinks that a juvenile shall be presumed innocent unless proved otherwise, basing the idea on the issue of whether a child understands the consequences of his action. The order of the Delhi Court should come up as a point of start of a deeper foray into various aspects of the Juvenile Justice Act and its provisions. 

This is a serious issue, of course. Many juvenile delinquents have escaped the legal consequences only because they get covered under the Juvenile Justice Act. The infamous Nirbhaya case of New Delhi had also kicked up a storm when the one boy of 16 years was let off the hook only under the provision of the JJ Act. Subsequently, following a nationwide hue and cry, certain alterations were done in the age limit for the Juvenile Justice Act to be applicable. despite that, the issue still remains unresolved because a lot of criss-cross thought dominates the discourse. It is time the larger society sorted out this problem urgently.

The Delhi court has talked of the ‘manner’ in which a crime has been committed, and also has given a thought to the past history of the child in terms of the offences committed by him earlier. These observations are critical to opening of a new discussion on the issue. For, they make an important and pertinent point: The personality traits -- consistency and habitual conduct -- of the individual offender in the juvenile category. It is obvious that if a juvenile individual has developed certain habit as part of his behaviour and is consistent in his conduct, then the consideration of the law should also undergo an appropriate alteration.

The concept of younger age as a limiting factor has its own problems. In the Nirbhaya case, the so-called juvenile offender was the worst in behaviour. He was the cruelest and the most shameless, as reported by his accomplices. There was no way to disprove those inputs from co-offenders. Yet, the boy got the benefit of the legal leniency offered under the JJ Act. The whole nation boiled in anger and exasperation, but to no avail.

Much has been said in the past some years as regards the provisions of the JJA, though nothing concrete has ever emerged from the debate. Time has now come to put to rest all the doubts as well as discriminatory thinking on the issue and to arrive at a legal provision that would give freedom to the law-enforcers to treat even juveniles as adults, on the basis of consistency of conduct on the assessment of the past behaviour.

It is not difficult to interpret correctly the purpose behind certain provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act. But law is not a frozen entity; it is all the time evolving as per the needs of the changing times and climes. That is exactly why certain alterations of the consideration of the Juvenile Justice Act also need to be undertaken.

In a case in Europe, a juvenile boy who took intimate pictures of a friend clandestinely and posted those on social media triggered a panic reaction from the friend who committed suicide. The judge considering the case ruled that even though the offender -- in a case of abetment to suicide -- was a juvenile delinquent, he deserved to be tried as an adult. The judge felt, as reported then in the media, that photographing a friend in intimate conditions and posting the pictures on social media was a purposeful act and smacked of an adult conduct. Hence the need to subject the boy to serious legal scrutiny.
This is a wise consideration that must count in our thinking.