Delhi HC orders closure of ‘petty offence’ cases pending against juveniles for more than one year

The Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR) earlier had recommended immediate termination of all such cases where the proceedings involving petty offences have not been completed within six months as mandated by the law.

The Delhi High Court ordered inquiries into all such cases, alleging petty offences against children, which have remained pending and inconclusive for more than one year, shall stand terminated with immediate effect.

The Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR) earlier had recommended immediate termination of all such cases where the proceedings involving petty offences have not been completed within six months as mandated by the law.

The division bench of Justice Siddharth Mridul and Justice Anup Jairam Bhambhani said a formal order closing all such matters where the inquiry has remained pending for longer than one year shall be passed by the Juvenile Justice Boards (JJBs) within two weeks. Any children detained in these cases shall be released immediately without waiting for recording the formal orders, it added.

“We are passing these directions ex debito justiciae, to correct an error in the judicial dispensation, since we believe there is no justification in keeping such matters pending any longer,” said the court.

With regard to the cases pending between six months and one year against children accused of petty offences, the court directed the state to apprise it about the number of such cases pending in each JJB of Delhi along with the date of institution of inquiry and the date of first production if any in each case. The court will hear the matter regarding those cases on October 12, the next date of hearing.

“We make it clear that the termination of inquiries as per our directions under Section 14 would not in any manner deter the preparation and implementation of requisite rehabilitation and social reintegration plans as contemplated inter-alia in chapters V, VI and VII of the JJ Act, which would be proceeded in accordance with law,” reads the order.

The court passed the order in a suo motu case relating to the children in conflict with law. During the hearings of the case, Bachpan Bachao Andolan and DCPCR apprised the court about the pendency of a number of cases relating to petty offences.

A total of 1.108 such cases were pending as on June 30 for one year or more and 795 cases were pending for a period between 6 months and one years before JJBs, according to the data submitted by DCPCR before the court.

According to Section 14 of the Juvenile Justice Act, the inquiry pertaining to petty offences against a child in conflict with law shall stand terminated if it remains inconclusive after a maximum of six months. Petty offences mean the criminal cases where the maximum punishment under the law is an imprisonment up to three years. During the hearings, Delhi High Court Legal Services Committee told the court that the process of age determination takes a substantial time and that Covid pandemic has also resulted in delay in such cases in the past several months.

The court said that children ought to have produced before the JJBs via video conferencing during the pandemic. “In our view, beyond the stipulated period, the very jurisdiction of a JJB to continue with such an inconclusive inquiry, ceases, without any further requirement,” it said.

Noting that the number of such pending cases before JJBs in Delhi has increased by 44 per cent within just six months between December 2020 and June 2021, the court said that although most of such children are not apprehended by police, or if apprehended are immediately handed over to the parents or guardians, the mere pendency of an inquiry against a child is “certainly stigmatic” and impacts their dignity.

“Therefore, this situation must not be allowed to continue, especially when it is plainly in the teeth of the provisions of Section 14(4),” said the court.

It further said that determination of age must be answered at the very threshold by the JJB and completed within the four-month period, which can be extended by two months. It noted that Section 94 states that determination of age is to be made in the first instance by the “obvious appearance” of the subject and in case of any doubt, other methods are to be applied to determine the age.

“And since Section 14 says that the period of 4 months shall run from the date of first production of the child before the JJB, we direct that in consonance with the spirit of Section 10, the child must be so produced before the JJB, whether or not apprehended or otherwise detained, without any loss of time but in any case within a period of twenty-four hours of the child becoming subject of processes under the JJ Act,” the court said.

In March, DCPCR Chairperson Anurag Kundu in the recommendation to the JJBs said that pursuing the proceedings beyond the legally permissible time limit would be encroachment of the statutory right as well as the personal liberty of children.

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