Minor old enough to drive and kill, but too young to be judged
The court’s observations came in the context of the JJ Act granting offences with a minimum sentence of seven years in prison as “atrocious” for leading a minor over the age of 16 and under 18, as an adult. In cases where there is no minimum sentence, a minor cannot be treated as an adult until Parliament has changed the law.
A bank of judges Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose delivered the verdict while granting relief to a juvenile accused in the 2016 case of Mercedes ran over in the capital where a person lost his life. The court held that the child would not be treated as an adult due to an “unfortunate gap” in the law.
The bench ordered that the order be sent to the authorities concerned in the Centre to ensure that it was directed by Parliament or the issuance of an ordinance. It said that the SC’s instructions would remain in force until such measures were taken.
Under the JJ Act, crimes have been engendered into three categories: misdemeanors for which the maximum sentence is imprisonment of up to three years, felonies involving a 3-7 year prison sentence, and heinous offences for which the minimum sentence is seven years.
The court said there was a fourth category in which no minimum sentence was prescribed, but when the maximum sentence was more than seven years, such as murder that does not amount to murder or suicide.
In the event of an appalling crime committed by a minor over the age of 16, the person could be tried as an adult after his mental and physical capacity to commit such a crime was established and the ability to understand its consequences is established.
“We maintain that a crime that does not provide for a minimum sentence of seven years cannot be treated as an atrocious crime. However, in view of what we have concluded, the Act does not deal with the fourth category of offences, when the maximum sentence is more than seven years in prison, but no minimum sentence or minimum sentence of less than seven years is provided” The bank said.
“How and how a minor who commits such crimes should be dealt with is something that the legislator should have clearly pointed out in the Act. There’s an unfortunate gap. We cannot fill the void by saying that these crimes should be treated as heinous crimes,” the court added. Again, differentiation is necessary, as some crimes will not fall into the heinous category.
“We must also bear in mind the fact that the Juvenile Justice Act system is to protect children. Treating children as adults is an exception to the rule,” the court said. In this case, the juvenile at the time of the crime was over 16 years old, but under 18 years old.
The Youth Justice Board in 2016 held that it had committed an atrocious crime, and therefore should be tried as an adult. In May 2019, UN UnBat In Delhi contended that, since no minimum sentence was prescribed for the crime in question, it did not fall within the scope of the JJ Act and annulled the Board’s decision.