Sunday, April 25, 2010

No longer juvenile, murder convict set free

Dhananjay Mahapatra, TNN, Apr 25, 2010, enNEW DELHI: Age was really on his side. As a 16-year-old boy, he had murdered his relative 19 years ago. He had spent two years and four months in juvenile remand before being granted bail during the trial and appeal before HC, both of which convicted him and sentenced him to life.

The Supreme Court accepted Dharamvir’s plea that he was a juvenile when the murder was committed. It upheld the conviction. But under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act, he could be sent to a remand home for a maximum period of three years, whatever be the crime.

This meant he would have to undergo confinement in a juvenile home for another eight months. But, should the convict, who is now 35 years old, be sent back to a juvenile home to serve out the remaining remand period? The SC felt it would be pernicious to send a 35-year-old man to a juvenile home and thought it would be better to release him.

So despite a bench comprising Justices D K Jain and J M Panchal fastening the murder charge on him, it had to him let go, for under the JJ Act, he had no place in a remand home. In this case, the Bench had tasked a registrar of the SC to conduct inquiries at the three schools the accused had attended till the commission of crime. Based on records available and inquiries made with the schools, the report of the registrar concluded that the accused was 16 years, 9 months and 8 days at the time of commission of the crime, clearly a juvenile.

The bench was left to decide the quantum of punishment. Under the 2000 act, no juvenile could be detained in a juvenile home beyond a period of three years. In the case of the accused, he had already undergone two years, four months incarceration.

So should he be sent back there again, that too when he is 35 years old? The court agreed with senior advocate K Parasaran and counsel Sukumar, who appeared for the accused, and said it would be unfair to the inmates of a juvenile home if he was sent there now.

“We feel that, keeping in view the age of the appellant, it may not be conducive to the environment in the special home and to the interest of other juveniles housed there, to refer him to the board for passing orders for sending the appellant to special home,” the bench said.