Juveniles committing rape could be tried in criminal court

Ministry proposes amendments to Juvenile Justice Act

Juveniles committing rape could be tried in criminal court

The Women and Child Development Ministry has proposed amendments to a law, seeking trial of youngsters between 16 and 18 years by a criminal court for committing serious offences like rape and murder.

The proposed amendments to the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000, also seek to allow the transfer of cases of those between 16 and 18 years to criminal courts if they are habitual offenders.

No juvenile in conflict with the law, however, will be sentenced to death or life imprisonment “without the possibility of release” in case a court finds him guilty of committing a serious offence under the Indian Penal Code, the draft bill stipulates.

Under the proposed amendments, a serious offence means that which entails a punishment of more than seven years’ imprisonment for adults. No child will be considered a repeat offender on the grounds that a case is already pending against him, it clarifies.

The proposed amendments come amid demands from various quarters for lowering the age at which criminal courts could try youngsters committing heinous crimes.

Under the existing law, juveniles can only be tried by the Juvenile Justice Board and face a maximum sentence of three years at correction homes, which many argue, is inadequate for repeat offenders and those committing heinous crimes.

The debate on the issue intensified after a group of men, including one juvenile, gang-raped a 23-year-old girl in Delhi in December 2012. The victim later succumbed to her injuries.

According to the draft bill, the power to transfer cases of children to criminal courts for trial will be vested in the Juvenile Justice Board.

Before passing such an order, however, the board will conduct an inquiry into the charges levelled against the youngster and the “mitigating circumstances” in which the offence was committed.

It will also examine the culpability of such a youngster in committing serious crimes as well as his ability to understand the consequences of such unlawful acts.

All these exercises will be undertaken by the board to come to a conclusion on whether the case of a juvenile charged with a crime of serious nature was fit for continuing adjudication under the Juvenile Justice Act or trial by a criminal court.

“Board shall, after the inquiry, pass an order for continued adjudication of the case in accordance with the provisions of this Act or to transfer such case to the court having jurisdiction over such offence,” stipulates the draft bill.

The Juvenile Justice Board will have to conclude its inquiry in such cases within a month of the youngster being produced before it. In case the board requires extension of time for completion of the inquiry, it may be granted by a chief judicial magistrate for reasons to be recorded in writing.

The proposed amendments also seek state governments to “arrange a place of safety” for keeping these youngsters.

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