Defend juvenile law provisions: SC tells Centre

Asking if the nature of a crime should be taken into account before granting immunity to juveniles from criminal prosecution, the Supreme Court Monday asked the Centre to defend the "constitutional validity" of the provision in the Juvenile Justice Act that treats a person as minor till 18.

Seeking a comprehensive response from the Centre, a Bench of Justices K S Radhakrishnan and Dipak Misra said that the court would deal with the validity of the law on the "judicial side" and hence recommendations by the government-mandated Verma Committee could not provide the answers to the questions raised in a PIL.

The petitioner asked the court to declare certain provisions of the Act in violation of fundamental rights under Articles 14 (right to equality) and 21 (right to life and liberty) of the Constitution. It also sought that certain provisions be held unconstitutional, pointing out that the definition of "juvenile in conflict with law" accords absolute immunity to delinquents up to the age of 18 years from being prosecuted like adults despite the gravity of their crimes.

"Should the fixation of age as 18 years have some nexus with the crime? The question that this petition raises is that the gravity of crime must have some connection with the determination of age and its benefits," said the court, addressing Attorney General G E Vahanvati. The AG had been requested by the Bench on Friday to appear before it and communicate the Centre's stand.

The AG began by saying that the issue of age and culpability of juveniles had been gone into extensively by the Verma report. "That could be... but we want to deal with it on the judicial side," responded the Bench.

Vahanvati then pointed out that law and order was a state subject and also that several NGOs had raised this issue after the Delhi gangrape case. The court however reminded the AG that the Juvenile Justice Act was a central government law.

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