A two-judge Bench of Justice Dr. DY Chandrachud and Justice BV Nagarathna has summarised the law regarding determination of juvenility of an accused under the Justice Juvenile Act, 2015 after referring to previous judgments of the Court on the subject, while upholding the impugned order holding that the accused is a juvenile.

Advocate Mr. Anupam Dwivedi appeared for the Appellant, while Additional Advocate General Mr. Sharan Thakur appeared for Respondent – State of Uttar Pradesh and Advocate Mr. Saurabh Trivedi appeared for Respondents 2 & 3 during the proceedings before the Court.

An appeal was preferred assailing the order passed by the Allahabad High Court where the Court rejected the criminal revision petition filed by the Appellant and declared Respondent No. 2 who was accused under Sections 147, 148, 149, 323, 307, 302, and 34 IPC as a juvenile delinquent.

In this case, an application was filed by the Appellant before the JJ Board for a medical test of Respondent No. 2 to ascertain his actual and true age. However, the said application was dismissed. The same came to be dismissed by the District and Session Judge, Baghpat.

It was contended by the Appellant that evidence led by Respondent 2 were all forged and their genuineness was doubtful and they could not be relied upon in support of claim of juvenility made by Respondent No. 2.

Further, it was argued that the JJ Board did not appreciate the legislative intent behind Section 94 of the JJ Act, 2015 by declaring that matriculation certificate was a conclusive document for determining the age of juvenile irrespective of other material discrepancies in the oral testimony of the witnesses or other documents being produced.

While Respondent No. 2 contended that the matriculation certificate was a document on which full reliance could be placed for determining the age of the juvenile accused. It was further argued that the Appellant cannot seek an ossification test of him for the purpose of determination of his age since it was not conclusive proof.

While referring to a catena of judgments, the Apex Court summarised the law on the subject thus–

i) A claim of juvenility may be raised at any stage of a criminal proceeding, even after final disposal of the case. A delay in raising the claim of juvenility cannot be a ground for rejection of such a claim. It can also be raised for the first time before this Court.

ii) An application claiming juvenility could be made either before the Court or the JJ Board.

iii) When the issue of juvenility arises before a Court, it would be under sub-section (2) and (3) of section 9 of the JJ Act, 2015 but when a person is brought before a Committee or JJ Board, section 94 of the JJ Act, 2015 applies.

iv) If an application is filed before the Court claiming juvenility, the provision of sub-section (2) of section 94 of the JJ Act, 2015 would have to be applied or read along with sub-section (2) of section 9 so as to seek evidence for the purpose of recording a finding stating the age of the person as nearly as may be.

v) When an application claiming juvenility is made under section 94 of the JJ Act, 2015 before the JJ Board when the matter regarding the alleged commission of offence is pending before a Court, then the procedure contemplated under section 94 of the JJ Act, 2015 would apply.

vi) That when a claim for juvenility is raised, the burden is on the person raising the claim to satisfy the Court to discharge the initial burden. However, the documents mentioned in Rule 12(3)(a)(i), (ii), and (iii) of the JJ Rules 2007 made under the JJ Act, 2000 or sub-section (2) of section 94 of JJ Act, 2015, shall be sufficient for prima facie satisfaction of the Court. On the basis of the aforesaid documents a presumption of juvenility may be raised.

vii) The said presumption is however not conclusive proof of the age of juvenility and the same may be rebutted by contra evidence let in by the opposite side.

viii) That the procedure of an inquiry by a Court is not the same thing as declaring the age of the person as a juvenile sought before the JJ Board when the case is pending for trial before the concerned criminal court. In case of an inquiry, the Court records a prima facie conclusion but when there is a determination of age as per sub-section (2) of section 94 of 2015 Act, a declaration is made on the basis of evidence. Also, the age recorded by the JJ Board shall be deemed to be the true age of the person brought before it. Thus, the standard of proof in an inquiry is different from that required in a proceeding where the determination and declaration of the age of a person has to be made on the basis of evidence scrutinised and accepted only if worthy of such acceptance.

ix) That it is neither feasible nor desirable to lay down an abstract formula to determine the age of a person. It has to be on the basis of the material on record and on appreciation of evidence adduced by the parties in each case.

x) This Court has observed that a hypertechnical approach should not be adopted when evidence is adduced on behalf of the accused in support of the plea that he was a juvenile.

xi) If two views are possible on the same evidence, the court should lean in favour of holding the accused to be a juvenile in borderline cases. This is in order to ensure that the benefit of the JJ Act, 2015 is made applicable to the juvenile in conflict with law. At the same time, the Court should ensure that the JJ Act, 2015 is not misused by persons to escape punishment after having committed serious offences.

xii) That when the determination of age is on the basis of evidence such as school records, it is necessary that the same would have to be considered as per Section 35 of the Indian Evidence Act, inasmuch as any public or official document maintained in the discharge of official duty would have greater credibility than private documents.

xiii) Any document which is in consonance with public documents, such as matriculation certificate, could be accepted by the Court or the JJ Board provided such public document is credible and authentic as per the provisions of the Indian Evidence Act viz., section 35 and other provisions.

xiv) Ossification Test cannot be the sole criterion for age determination and a mechanical view regarding the age of a person cannot be adopted solely on the basis of medical opinion by radiological examination. Such evidence is not conclusive evidence but only a very useful guiding factor to be considered in the absence of documents mentioned in Section 94(2) of the JJ Act, 2015.

The Court further observed, "The age recorded by the Committee or the Board to be the age of the person so brought before it shall for the purpose of the JJ Act, 2015 be deemed to be the true age of the person."

In the light of these observations, the Court upheld the judgment of the High Court and District Court and dismissed the appeal.

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