The Supreme Court on Monday decided to examine the constitutional validity of the definition of ‘juvenile’ under the Juvenile Justice Act since it provides blanket cover to juveniles less than 18 years of age even in the case of heinous crimes.

A Bench of Justices K.S. Radhakrishnan and Dipak Misra told the Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati and counsel for the petitioners: “We have to examine the matter as it relates to fixation of age. 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.”

When the AG said “the Justice J.S. Verma committee report has gone into all the issues but refrained from lowering the age for making a classification for juvenile”, the Bench said: “We will not go into the Justice Verma Committee report as the issue before us is purely a matter of law.” The bench asked the Attorney General to file counter-affidavits and relevant reports relating to the issue on behalf of the Ministry of Law and Ministry of Home Affairs by March 29 and decided to hear the matter from April 3.

The petition, filed by two advocates, Kamal Kumar Pandey and Sukumar, sought a declaration that certain provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000 were in violation of fundamental rights as guaranteed under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution apart from being in non-observance of the Article 39A being one of the directive principles of State Policy. The petitioners said: “The JJ Act is a special social beneficial legislation and is well intended and impregnated with very high and pious objectives. However, the classification/definition for all juvenile offenders up to the age of 18 years, providing blanket cover/protection against all and every offence committed, unmindful of the (i) nature and gravity of the offence (ii) actual age and mental maturity level of juvenile offender (iii) socio-economic background of the juvenile (iv) nature and character of the juvenile (v) rights of the victim of offence committed by the juvenile and (vi) taking away of the judicial discretion in totality and absolutely in case of offence committed by the juvenile; is highly irrational and has no reasonable nexus to the objective sought to be achieved and is contrary to and in violation of the Article 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India and is accordingly, unconstitutional.”

They said “the maturity of mind and reason in a child is not uniform in all children up to the age of 18 years. The Indian Penal Code enacted and codified approximately 150 years before under Section 82 and 83 represents much better classification of children in accordance with their age in respect of the offence committed by them, wherein the child up to the age of 7 years is totally exempted from any criminal liability and in case of children between the age of 7 to 12 years, there is judicial discretion to judge as to the maturity level of the child in respect of the offence committed.”