Gravity of crime or age of accused? SC to examine

JU

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to examine if the forum for trial and punishment for a crime committed by a minor should be determined by the gravity of the crime, and not merely by the age of the perpetrator.

The country has been agitated by the possibility of the juvenile accused in the gangrape of the 23-year-old woman on a bus in Delhi getting off lightly because he was a few months shy of 18 years on December 16, when the crime was committed. He is believed to have been the most brutal of the six who assaulted the victim, who died in a Singapore hospital on December 29.

Calling it an "issue of national importance", a bench led by Justice K S Radhakrishnan issued notices to the Delhi and central governments and others on two petitions that sought to redefine the age of juvenility in the wake of the alleged "brutal and heinous" role played by the juvenile accused in the gangrape case.

The petitions argued that the provisions of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act and Rules, fixing the age of juvenility at 18 years, violated Articles 14 (right to equality) and 21 (right to life and liberty) of the Constitution.

Petitioner Salil Bali submitted that the "gravity of the crime" rather than "juvenility" needed to be addressed, and that Parliament had no power to extend leniency to such lengths that it impinged upon the fundamental rights of citizens.

There was "no rationale" for fixing the age of juvenility at 18 for all categories of offences, Bali said — age should be fixed according to the offence, as is done in several countries.

"The issue involved is of national importance if the child below 18 should be tried in normal course in view of seriousness of the offence. In view of the issues raised in the writ petitions, we are of the prima facie view that the issues raised in these writ petitions are of considerable general importance and we are inclined to issue notice in all these petitions," the bench said.

... contd.

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