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Juvenile Justice Act offers protection to a genuine Child

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Om Prakash v. State of Rajasthan & Anr.

The benefit of the principle of benevolent legislation attached to Juvenile Justice Act would thus apply to only such cases wherein the accused is held to be a juvenile on the basis of at least prima facie evidence regarding his minority as the benefit of the possibilities of two views in regard to the age of the alleged accused who is involved in grave and serious offence which he committed and gave effect to it in a well planned manner reflecting his maturity of mind rather than innocence indicating that his plea of juvenility is more in the nature of a shield to dodege or dupe the arms of law, cannot be allowed to come to his rescue. Hence if the plea of juvenility or the fact that he had not attained the age of discretion so as to understand the consequence of his heinous act is not free from ambiguity or doubt, the said plea cannot be allowed to be raised merely on doubtful school admission record and in the event it is doubtful, the medical evidence will have to be given due weightage while determining the age of the accused.

“it is clear that the petitioner neither was a child nor near about the age of being a child within the meaning of the Juvenile Justice Act or the Children Act. He is proved to be a major at the time of the commission of the offence. No doubt, much less a reasonable doubt is created in the mind of the court, for the accused entitling him to the benefit of a lesser punishment, it is true that the accused tried to create a smoke screen with respect to his age. But such effort appears to have been made only to hide his real age and not to create any doubt in the mind of the court. The judicial system cannot be allowed to be taken to ransom by having resort to imaginative and concocted grounds by taking advantage of loose sentences appearing in the evidence of some of the witnesses particularly at the stage of special leave petition. The law insists on finality of judgments and is more concerned with the strengthening of the judicial system. The courts are enjoined upon to perform their duties with the object of strengthening the confidence of the common man in the institution entrusted with the administration of justice. Any effort which weakens the system and shakes the faith of the common man in the justice dispensation system has to be discouraged.”

However, we reiterate that we may not be misunderstood so as to infer that even if an accused is clearly below the age of 18 years on the date of commission of offence, should not be granted protection or treatment available to a juvenile under the Juvenile Justice Act if a dispute regarding his age had been raised but was finally resolved on scrutiny of evidence. What is meant to be emphasized is that where the courts cannot clearly infer in spite of available evidence on record that the accused is a juvenile or the said plea appear to have been raised merely to create a mist or a smokescreen so as to hide his real age in order to shield the accused on the plea of his minority, the attempt cannot be allowed to succeed so as to subvert or dupe the cause of justice. Drawing parallel between the plea of minority and the plea of alibi, it may be worthwhile to state that it is not uncommon to come across criminal cases wherein an accused makes an effort to take shelter under the plea of alibi which has to be raised at the first instance but has to be subjected to strict proof of evidence by the court trying the offence and cannot be allowed lightly in spite of lack of evidence merely with the aid of salutary principle that an innocent man may not have to suffer injustice by recording an order of conviction in spite of his plea of alibi. Similarly, if the conduct of an accused or the method and manner of commission of the offence indicates an evil and a well planned design of the accused committing the offence which indicates more towards the matured skill of an accused than that of an innocent child, then in the absence of reliable documentary evidence in support of the age of the accused, medical evidence indicating that the accused was a major cannot be allowed to be ignored taking shelter of the principle of benevolent legislation like the Juvenile Justice Act, subverting the course of justice as statutory protection of the Juvenile Justice Act is meant for minors who are innocent law breakers and not accused of matured mind who uses the plea of minority as a ploy or shield to protect himself from the sentence of the offence committed by him. The benefit of benevolent legislation under the Juvenile Justice Act obviously will offer protection to a genuine child accused/juvenile who does not put the court into any dilemma as to whether he is a juvenile or not by adducing evidence in support of his plea of minority but in absence of the same, reliance placed merely on shaky evidence like the school admission register which is not proved or oral evidence based on conjectures leading to further ambiguity, cannot be relied upon in preference to the medical evidence for assessing the age of the accused.

G.S. Singhvi and Gyan Sudha Misra, JJ

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