Dismisses plea that minors involved in heinous crimes should not be protected under the law.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday dismissed a batch of petitions seeking a direction to the Centre to take steps to make changes in the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2000 to ensure that juveniles be tried under normal law in offences like rape and murder. The petitions also demanded that protection to juveniles under the Act be removed.

A three-judge Bench of incumbent Chief Justice Altamas Kabir, and Justices S.S. Nijjar and J. Chelameswar, while rejecting the batch of petitions, also did not accept the plea that the investigating agency be permitted to keep records of the juvenile offenders, and take preventive measures to ensure that repeat offenders were brought to justice.

Writing the judgment, the incumbent Chief Justice said: “There is little doubt that the incident (the Delhi gang rape) which occurred on the night of December16, 2012, was not only gruesome, but almost maniacal in its content, wherein one juvenile, whose role is yet to be established, was involved. But such an incident, in comparison to the vast number of crimes occurring in India, makes it an aberration rather than the rule.”

The Bench said “If what has come out from the reports of the Crime Records Bureau is true, then the number of crimes committed by juveniles comes to about 2% of the country’s crime rate. The JJ Act is in tune with the provisions of the Constitution and the various Declarations and Conventions adopted by the world community represented by the United Nations. The basis of fixing of the age till when a person could be treated as a child at 18 years in the JJ Act was Article 1 of the Convention of the Rights of the Child. The age limit, which was raised from 16 to 18 years in the JJ Act, is a decision which was taken by the Government, which is strongly in favour of retaining Sections 2(k) and 2(l) in the manner in which it exists in the statute book.”

The Bench said that a misunderstanding of the law relating to sentencing of juveniles needed to be corrected.

The general understanding, the court said, was that a juvenile guilty of a heinous offence could be allowed to go free on his attaining the age of 18 years. The Bench made it clear that even if a juvenile attained the age of 18 years within a period of one year, he would still have to undergo a sentence of three years. The Bench pointed out that the essence of the Juvenile Justice Act is “restorative and not retributive, providing for rehabilitation and reintegration of children in conflict with law into the mainstream society.”

“The age of 18 has been fixed on account of the understanding of experts in child psychology and behavioural patterns that till such an age the children in conflict with law could still be redeemed and restored to mainstream society, instead of becoming hardened criminals in future.”

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