Defend juvenile law provisions: SC tells Centre

"This is your law. The states have no role and we are not going to hear the NGOs. We are on the constitutional validity of these provisions in question. This is your law and they will have to be tested on the anvils of Articles 14 and 21," it said.

Agreeing that the matter required some consideration, Vahanvati referred to the juvenile offender in the gangrape case, saying: "The question is why he (juvenile) has done what he has done. Has the society failed him or there are other reasons? This will also be significant. Moreover, if anybody says that it (the juvenile age) should be reduced to 16 years, there will be other factors that would work against even this age limit. There will be different views," he added.

At this, the court made it clear that its scrutiny was not because of the facts in any particular case but that it wished to examine the point of law since India was also a signatory to several international conventions that held different views on the subject. It then asked the AG to file a detailed counter-affidavit to the petition by March 30 and listed the matter for further hearing on April 3.

Meanwhile, advocates Sukumar and Kamal Kumar Pandey, petitioners in the case, submitted before the Bench that the benefits of age for juvenile offenders was completely "arbitrary and irrational" under the Act. The lawyers cited provisions under the Indian Penal Code of 1860 which offered some discretion to judges in determining criminal liability of children.

The petition had contended that Sections 82 and 83 of the IPC represented a much better classification of children since these provisions took into account not just their age but also the nature of offences committed by them. "Children up to the age of seven years are totally exempted from any criminal liability and for older children, there is a judicial discretion to judge as to the maturity level of the child in respect to the offence committed," it stated.

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