The Supreme Court on Monday said it would examine the constitutional validity of certain sections in the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000, which defines offenders who are merely a few weeks under 18 years of age as minors, irrespective of the gravity of their crimes.
“We have to examine the matter relating to fixation of age,” the SC Bench of justices K S Radhakrishnan and Justice Dipak Misra said.
“It is a question of law. The fixation of age should have some nexus with the gravity of the crime or offence for deciding whether the offenders can be tried as adults in heinous offences,” the Bench said. It also wondered whether the definition is not in conflict with article 14 (equality before the Law) and article 21 (Protection of life and personal liberty) of the Constitution.
Attorney General G E Vahanvati said three issues needed to be determined. One, whether the juvenile had committed what he had committed, two, whether the age to be determined as a juvenile should be kept at 18 or whether it should be lowered to 16 years or below 16, and three, whether the court should be granted the discretion in awarding punishment that is commensurate with the gravity of the offence.
When the AG told the court that the views of States and NGOs must be heard in this regard, the bench said it was not necessary.
The AG told the Bench that the Justice Verma Committee report had gone into all the issues but refrained from lowering the age for making a classification for a juvenile. The Bench asked the Attorney General to file counter affidavits and relevant reports relating to the issue on behalf of the Law Ministry and the Home Ministry by March 29.
The petition filed by advocates Kamal Kumar Pandey and Sukumar contended that Sections 2, 10 and 17 of the Juvenile Justice Act, which deal with the issue, were irrational, arbitrary, without reasonable nexus and thereby ultravires and unconstitutional.