‘Re-examine accused juvenility issue’: SC on murder of schoolboy at Gurugram school

The Supreme Court on Wednesday said the juvenile, who was accused in the murder of child at Gurugram private school in 2017, should be re-examined whether he could be prosecuted as an adult.

It noted that the world acknowledges that children in conflict with law should be treated differently than adults, and asked the Central government, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, and others to consider passing appropriate guidelines on “preliminary assessment” of the child for trial as an adult in heinous offences.

It said these guidelines should assist and facilitate the Juvenile Justice Board (JJB) to decide if a child between 16-18 years of age should be tried as an adult for a heinous offence.

A bench of Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Vikram Nath noted that there could be a number of reasons for a person to commit a crime — enmity, poverty, greed, perversity in mind, coercion, to help family and friends etc. It added that the process of taking a decision, on which the fate of the child in conflict with law precariously rests, should not be taken without conducting a meticulous psychological evaluation.

It noted that children may be geared towards more instant gratification and may not be able to deeply understand the long-term consequences of their actions. “They are also more likely to be influenced by emotion rather than reason. Research shows that young people do know risks to themselves. Despite this knowledge, adolescents engage in riskier behaviour than adults (such as drug and alcohol use, unsafe sexual activity, dangerous driving and/or delinquent behaviour),” the bench added.

The top court agreed with the finding of the Punjab and Haryana High Court that further assessment of the accused ought to have been carried out once the psychologist had recommended it.

Citing the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015, the bench said it does not lay down either any guideline or framework to facilitate preliminary assessment by the JJB on the relevant aspects. And, the JJB could only obtain assistance from an experienced psychologist or a psychosocial worker or other expert.

It further added that the world acknowledges that children in conflict with law should be treated differently than adults. “The reason is that the mind of the child has not attained maturity and it is still developing. Therefore, the child should be tested on different parameters and should be given an opportunity of being brought into the mainstream,” said Justice Nath, who authored the judgment on behalf of the bench.

He added that the task of preliminary assessment under Section 15 of the Act is a delicate task with requirement of expertise and has its own implications as regards trial of the case. In this view of the matter, it appears expedient that appropriate and specific guidelines in this regard are put in place, he said, in the 94-page judgment.

The Act mandates when a child has committed a heinous offence and is above 16 years, the Juvenile Justice Board and children’s court would make a preliminary assessment and pass appropriate orders.

Elaborating on the importance of preliminary assessment, the bench said the report of the assessment decides the germane question of transferring the case of a child between 16 to 18 years of age to the children’s court.

Justice Kant added that the evaluation of mental capacity and ability to understand the consequences of the child in conflict with law cannot be relegated to the status of a perfunctory and a routine task. “The process of taking a decision on which the fate of the child in conflict with law precariously rests, should not be taken without conducting a meticulous psychological evaluation,” he said.

The apex court junked an appeal by the CBI and the father of the victim challenging the 2018 Punjab and Haryana High Court verdict, which set aside a decision to try a class 11 student of a private school in Gurugram as an adult in the murder of a class 2 student in September 2017.

The high court had directed fresh consideration of intelligence, maturity, and physical fitness. The top court agreed with the high court remanding the matter for a fresh consideration after correcting the errors on lack of adequate opportunity to the child in conflict with law.

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