The Supreme Court on Wednesday said that the Juvenile Justice Board (JJB) be informed not to pronounce its verdict on the alleged role of a minor in the December 16 gang-rape and murder case, till it decides a PIL seeking fresh interpretation of the term ‘juvenile.’

A bench headed by Chief Justice P. Sathasivam asked Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy to inform the JJB on this issue and posted his case for hearing on August 14.

Advocate Anoop Bhambani, appearing for the juvenile, opposed Mr. Swamy’s plea and sought more time to file response to his petition.

The Centre also opposed Mr. Swamy’s plea, saying a third party should not intervene in a criminal case and any decision taken by the apex court in this case cannot be applied retrospectively.

The bench, however, said the issue raised in the petition needs to be examined along with maintainability of the plea.

Mr. Swamy has sought that the “mental and intellectual maturity” of minor offenders be considered instead of the age limit of 18 years while fixing their culpability.

After the apex court had on July 23 agreed to hear his plea, the JJB had deferred till August 5 the pronouncement of its verdict on the alleged involvement of the juvenile accused in the December 16 gang-rape and murder case.

The juvenile was one of six persons who had gang-raped a 23—year—old girl in a moving bus here, according to the prosecution. The victim died in a Singapore hospital on December 29.

Of the other five accused, four — Mukesh, Pawan Gupta, Vinay Sharma and Akshay Thakur — are facing trial before a fast track court. Proceedings against key accused Ram Singh abated after his death on March 11 when he was found hanging in his cell in Tihar Jail.

The JJB has already convicted the juvenile for robbing carpenter Ram Adhar with the other adult co—accused by luring him into the same bus in which the girl was gang-raped and assaulted.

The board, however, has also deferred till August 5 the pronouncement of sentence in the robbery case. In his petition, Mr. Swamy has said the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act (JJA) provides for a “straitjacket” interpretation of the term ‘juvenile’ that a person below the age of 18 years is a minor and it was in violation of the United Nations Convention for the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and Beijing Rules on the issue.

The UNCRC and Beijing Rules say the presumption of “the age of criminal responsibility” be fixed while “bearing in mind the mental and intellectual maturity” of the offender, he has said.

A provision of the JJA says, “Juvenile or child means a person who has not completed eighteenth year of age.”

“I submit that since it was the intention of Parliament, as stated in the Preamble, to enact JJA in consonance with the ratified UNCRC and Beijing Rules, it is prayed that this court, after hearing the UOI (the central government) if necessary, may read the words ‘mental and intellectual maturity’ into the wording of Section 2(k) on the age of innocence,” he has said.

Mr. Swamy has also cited the alleged role of the juvenile in the December 16 gang-rape case.

The present interpretation of term ‘juvenile’ has the effect of “nullifying” the fundamental right to life of the victim, he has contended.

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