Juvenile Justice Act A Beneficial Legislation, Plea Of Juvenility To Be Raised In Bonafide And Truthful Manner - SC
A two-judge bench of the Supreme Court comprising of Justice Hemant Gupta and Justice V Ramasubramanium has observed that the family register was a relevant document to determine the age of an accused juvenile. Moreover, the Court asserted that the plea of juvenility had to be raised in a bonafide and truthful manner.
Additionally, the Court held that if the reliance was on a document to seek juvenility that was not reliable or dubious in nature, the Appellant could not be treated to be juvenile keeping in view that the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2003 was beneficial legislation.
In this case, the Appellant was arrayed as an accused because he had waylaid a car and snatched Rs. 22 lacs from the occupants of the car. The complainant was one of the occupants of the car, whereas, another occupant - Bhim Singh lost his life on account of a bullet fired on him. During the pendency of the trial, the Appellant moved an application and claimed that he was a juvenile as on the date of the incident, relying upon his school record disclosing his date of birth as 13.05.1993.
The Additional Sessions Judge accepted the plea of the Appellant and declared him to be juvenile which was challenged before the Punjab and Haryana High Court by way of a Revision Petition. The revision was allowed and the matter was remitted back to the trial court for adjudicating afresh. The Additional Sessions Judge, after remand, found the Appellant to be 16 years 8 months and 5 days old on the date of incident as per the Ossification Test report. The Punjab and Haryana High Court set aside the order and relied upon the family register prepared under The U.P. Panchayat Raj (Maintenance of Family Register) Rules, 1970 to hold that the Appellant's plea of juvenility cannot be allowed. This impugned judgment was challenged before the Supreme Court.
Senior Counsel, Mr. Bhargava appeared for the Appellant while Counsel, Ms. Monika Gusain represented the State before the Apex Court.
The primary issue in this case was –
- Whether the family register was a relevant document to determine the age of an accused juvenile.
It was contended by the Appellant that the family register cannot be made the basis of determining the age of the juvenile under the provisions of the Act and the Rules framed thereunder. The case of Hare Ram Chowdhary v. State of U.P was even relied on. Moreover, the three documents such as a Birth Certificate; School leaving Certificate, and the Report of the Ossification Test were relied on to support his plea of being a juvenile. On the other hand, the State relied upon the family register prescribed by the Family Register Rules to oppose the claim of juvenility.
The Supreme Court noted that the ossification test varied based on individual characteristics and hence its reliability had to be examined in each case. Hence, it could not be reasonably expected to formulate a uniform standard for the determination of the age of the union of the epiphysis on account of variations in climatic, dietetic, hereditary, and other factors affecting the people of the different states of India.
Moreover, the Court relied on the case of Jyoti Prakash Rai v. State of Bihar to observe that the medical report determining the age of a person had never been considered by Courts of law as also by the medical scientist to be conclusive in nature. It was also opined that though the Juvenile Justice (Care & Protection) Act was beneficial legislation principles of beneficial legislation were to be applied only for the purpose of interpretation of the statute and not for arriving at a conclusion as to whether a person was juvenile or not.
Additionally, the Court opined that Section 35 of the Evidence Act, 1872 was attracted both in civil and criminal proceedings. According to the Court, a register maintained in the ordinary course of business by a public servant in discharge of his official duty or by any other person in the performance of a duty specially enjoined by the law of the country in which such register was kept would be a relevant fact. This line of reasoning was upheld in the case of Ravinder Singh Gorkhi v. State of U.P.
The Court asserted that it was a question of fact as to how much evidentiary value was to be attached to the family register but to say that it was entirely not relevant would not be the correct enunciation of law. The register was being maintained in accordance with the rules framed under a statute. The entries made in the regular course of the affairs of the Panchayat would thus be relevant but the extent of such reliance would be in view of the peculiar facts and circumstances of each case
Moreover, the Court observed that the school record was not reliable and seemed to be procured only to support the plea of juvenility. The Appellant had not referred to the date of birth certificate in his application as it was obtained subsequently. Needless to say, the plea of juvenility had to be raised in a bonafide and truthful manner. If the reliance was on a document to seek juvenility that was not reliable or dubious in nature, the Appellant could not be treated to be juvenile keeping in view that the Act was beneficial legislation.Thus, the Supreme Court held that the view taken by the High Court was a possible view in law and did not call for any interference. Accordingly, the appeal was dismissed