A bench of Justices Ajay Rastogi and J.B. Pardiwala said: “We would like to observe that the rising rate of juvenile delinquency in India is a matter of concern and requires immediate attention.”
The bench said there is a school of thought, existing in our country that firmly believes that howsoever heinous the crime may be, be it single rape, gangrape, drug peddling or murder but if the accused is a juvenile, he should be dealt with keeping in mind only one thing i.e., the goal of reformation.
“The school of thought we are talking about believes that the goal of reformation is ideal. The manner in which brutal and heinous crimes have been committed over a period of time by the juveniles and still continue to be committed, makes us wonder whether the Act, 2015 (Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015) has subserved its object,” it said.
The top court made these observations while ruling that Shubam Sangra — a key accused in the sensational gang-rape and murder of an eight-year-old nomadic girl in J&K’s Kathua in 2018 — was not a minor at the time of the offence and he should be tried as an adult. The top court set aside the order passed by the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Kathua and the Jammu and Kashmir High Court.
Justice Pardiwala, who authored the judgment on behalf of the bench, said: “We have started gathering an impression that the leniency with which the juveniles are dealt with in the name of goal of reformation is making them more and more emboldened in indulging in such heinous crimes. It is for the government to consider whether its enactment of 2015 has proved to be effective or something still needs to be done in the matter before it is too late in the day.”
The bench noted that the benefit of the principle of benevolent legislation attached to the Juvenile Justice Act would be extended to only such cases wherein the accused is held to be a juvenile on the basis of at least prima facie evidence inspiring confidence regarding his minority as the benefit of the possibilities of two views in regard to the age.
Meanwhile, in the present case, it said the guilt or the innocence of the accused shall be determined strictly on the basis of the evidence that may be led by the prosecution and the defence at the time of the trial. “All observations made in this judgment are meant only for the purpose of deciding the issue of juvenility,” the bench said.