New Delhi, Dec. 2: The Supreme Court today asked the women and child welfare ministry to respond to a plea by the father of the December 16 gang-rape victim, which asks that juveniles accused of heinous crimes be tried under the Indian Penal Code like adults.
The petition argues that magistrates and trial courts should be allowed to decide how an accused aged between 16 and 18 should be prosecuted depending on the nature of the alleged offence.
Under the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000, an accused aged below 18 — such as the youngest convict in the Delhi gang rape and murder — can be tried only by the Juvenile Justice Board. The act provides for a maximum punishment of three years’ detention — at a juvenile home and not a jail.
The women and child development ministry has already proposed amendments to the 2000 act following a home ministry suggestion to have minors accused of serious crimes tried under the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The proposed amendment has been sent to the law ministry for approval.
Although the petition by the father of the December 16 victim sought a fresh trial for the juvenile convict under the IPC, the bench of Justices B.S. Chauhan and S.A. Bobde did not entertain this plea.
The petition also argues that the “blanket protection” from the IPC granted to juvenile offenders is unconstitutional. The apex court had earlier dismissed a batch of petitions that had challenged the constitutional validity of the 2000 act.
Nationwide street protests triggered by the December 16 incident have prompted the government to make sexual crime laws more stringent but these do not yet apply to juvenile accused.
The teenaged December 16 accused, whose school certificate shows him to have been 17 at the time of the crime, was on August 31 sentenced to three years in a remand home. Under the IPC, he could have been awarded a life term or even the death sentence.
One of the five adult accused allegedly committed suicide in Tihar jail in March. The four others have been sentenced to hang by a fast-track court and have challenged the verdict in Delhi High Court.
Two of them today told the high court that the Hindi translation of the judgment and trial records they had received from the police were “not readable” and sought time to approach the Supreme Court on the matter, a PTI report said.
The bench of Justices Reva Khetrapal and Pratibha Rani gave a week to the convicts, Pawan Gupta and Mukesh Singh, to approach the apex court.
Special public prosecutor Dayan Krishnan opposed the defence plea citing the high court ruling that the case should be heard daily. He accused the defence of stalling tactics.
Defence counsel M.L. Sharma, however, claimed the translation, handed last week, had been “done through Google” and was “not readable”.
Counsel A.P. Singh, appearing for the other two convicts, Akshay Thakur and Vinay Sharma, sought time to “interview” his clients again so he could argue their appeal properly. The bench asked him to argue the case on December 5.
Rape and neglect
The Supreme Court today sought the response of the Haryana government on a petition filed by a 17-year-old girl alleging that she had been gang-raped by nine persons but police refused to register a case against her tormentors.
The accused, including a constable, had allegedly abducted the teenager from her village in Rohtak district on October 25. She was kept in various locations in Haryana and Delhi and subjected to repeated assaults until she managed to escape on November 8.
She lodged a complaint with the police in Kalanaur, a town in Rohtak, but the cops including an lady sub-inspector, allegedly refused to register the case.
The victim was also allegedly threatened that her family would be killed if she chose to proceed with the case. A bench of Chief Justice P. Sathasivam and Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai asked the state government to file its response within four weeks.