THE JUVENILE Justice Act passed in 2015 is complicated and needs to be thoroughly discussed, according to Supreme Court judge Madan B Lokur.
Speaking at the two-day second roundtable of the Western Region Consultation on Juvenile Justice at the Maharashtra State Judicial Academy in Uttan near Bhayander on Sunday, Justice Lokur said, “Sentencing is a very complicated affair in the adult criminal justice system in deciding whether a person has to be sentenced to death or given life imprisonment or the quantum of years as punishment. It has been made more complicated under the new Juvenile Justice Act. It has added the provision of assessment of whether a child should be tried as an adult. It is necessary to be discussed thoroughly and threadbare since it will have long-term implications.”
“If we put a child who does not deserve to be sent to the adult criminal justice system, he will be in great trouble,” he said.
The event organised by the Juvenile Justice Committee of the Supreme Court and the Bombay High Court, along with the Maharashtra Ministry for Women and Child Development and UNICEF, was on the issue of rehabilitation and restoration of juveniles.
The amended Juvenile Justice Act, which was passed by Parliament last year, has replaced the previous law that had provisions to try anyone under the age of 18 years in the juvenile justice system. Under the amended law, in case of heinous offences committed by a minor who has completed or is above the age of 16 years, the Juvenile Justice Board will have to conduct a preliminary assessment with regard to his mental and physical capacity to commit the offence, and the circumstances and his ability to understand the consequences of the offence.
This would determine whether the minor has to be sentenced for reassessment at turning 21 after which he can be sent to a prison for an adult term or be released under the supervision of a monitoring authority. This assessment needs to be done with the assistance of an experienced psychologist or psycho-social worker. Activists said this was proving difficult to implement due to the lack of such experts in each district, especially in rural areas.
Justice Lokur told The Indian Express that the Act was too new to comment on its working. “The previous Act had been passed in 2000 and had been in force for 15 years. The new Act has raised a few issues, which need to be identified and discussed. Many issues will further come up in the course of its implementation, like it would for any new Act,” he said.
While the Act was passed in the last session of Parliament, the rules are still in the process of being formulated and may take at least three more months to be completed. Many present at the consultation gave representatives of the women and child development ministry suggestions on the rules, which will impact the Act’s implementation.
After presentations were made by different states on the current issues in rehabilitation of juveniles, an assessment was also done in terms of the progress made since the first regional consultation held last year in Delhi. Maharashtra, which has managed to establish child welfare committees and juvenile justice boards in each of its districts, is yet to complete a few tasks, including child-friendly proceedings, renovation of infrastructure or reduction in pendency of cases of children before the CWC.