Refer accused to Juvenile Justice Board, Bench asks magistrates

In all criminal cases where the accused were above 16 but under 18 years on the date of the crime, proceedings pending in court will continue and should be taken to their logical end except that the court, upon finding the juvenile guilty, would not pass an order of sentence. The Supreme Court gave this direction, laying down guidelines for magistrates across the country.

A Bench of Justices T.S. Thakur and Madan B. Lokur said: “The accused shall be referred to the Juvenile Justice Board for appropriate orders under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000.” The Board was empowered to award compensation to the victim’s family payable by the accused/appellant.

Two-fold difficulty

The Bench said: “It becomes obligatory for every magistrate to ascertain, in the first instance or as soon possible, whether the accused is an adult or a juvenile in conflict with law. The reason is to avoid a two-fold difficulty: first, to avoid a juvenile being subjected to procedures under the normal criminal law and dehors the Act and the Rules, and second, a resultant situation, where the “trial” is required to be set aside as having been conducted by a court not having the jurisdiction to do so or a juvenile, on being found guilty, going ‘unpunished’.”

If the magistrate had an iota of doubt about the juvenility of an accused, he/she might arrive at a prima facie conclusion on the basis of physical appearance. This should be recorded by the magistrate. Thereafter, if custodial remand was necessary, the accused might be sent to jail or a juvenile might be sent to an Observation Home, and the magistrate should simultaneously order an inquiry, if necessary, for determining the age of the accused. An inquiry at the earliest “would be in the best interests of the juvenile, since he would be kept away from adult undertrial prisoners and would not be subjected to a regimen in jail, which may not be conducive to his wellbeing.”

In the instant case, according to the prosecution, Jitendra Singh alias Babboo Singh was a juvenile, aged 17, on the date his wife Asha Devi was burnt to death. He was 15 at the time of marriage and Asha Devi was older than him. After the incident, a case of dowry death was registered and Babboo’s father was also cited as co-accused. The Allahabad High Court granted him bail, accepting his claim as a juvenile. A trial court in Uttar Pradesh awarded him seven years’ imprisonment and imposed a fine of Rs. 100. His father died during the hearing of the appeal. Babboo’s appeal against his conviction was dismissed by the High Court. Now, disposing of the appeal against this judgment, the Supreme Court said: “At present, the appellant is 40. The only possible and realistic sentence that can be awarded to him is imposition of a fine. The existing fine of Rs.100 is grossly inadequate. To this extent, the punishment awarded to the appellant is set aside. The issue of the quantum of fine is remitted to the jurisdictional Juvenile Justice Board,” which is also enjoined to examine compensation to be awarded, if any, to Asha Devi’s family in terms of the decision of this court.

  • In case of doubt, magistrate should order speedy inquiry to determine age of accused

  • This is to keep juveniles away from adult undertrial prisoners