HC slams Judicial Officer for ‘Uncaring, Inept Discharge of Functions’, recommends action

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The Punjab and Haryana High Court has slammed a judicial officer in Punjab for “uncaring and inept discharge of functions” and asked the Administrative Judge of the Gurdaspur district to take necessary remedial action for improving the standard of functioning of the Principal Judicial Magistrate.

The magistrate as head of the Juvenile Justice Board (JJB), Gurdaspur, had declined to grant bail to an accused in a rape case from Batala police district on March 18. The bail plea was dismissed despite the fact that the main accused, who had allegedly committed rape, was already acquitted in the case. The accused, who approached the high court in revision for bail, was in custody since August 2019 and had remained confined to the Special Home at Gurdaspur since then.

The minor’s bail by the JJB was dismissed on the ground that there were reasonable grounds to believe that the release is likely to bring him into association with a known criminal or expose him to moral, physical or psychological danger. The release would defeat the ends of justice, the JJB had recorded further.

The order passed by the High Court notes that the Section 12 of Juvenile Justice Act makes it clear that grant of bail to the child in conflict with the law should be the norm “and the proviso thereto requires denial of such bail only if release of the child is likely to bring him or her into association with known criminals or expose him/her to moral, physical or psychological danger or defeat the ends of justice.”

Justice Sanjay Kumar of the High Court said that the “mechanical reproduction” of the legal provision was “mere lip service” by the Principal Magistrate to the legal requirement, adding, the same is of no avail given the fact that he himself has referred to the acquittal of the main accused and then contradicted himself by saying that the evidence of the victim was yet to be recorded.

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“This is not the level of care or the approach expected of a magistrate heading a Juvenile Justice Board. The very purpose of constituting such Boards would be defeated by such uncaring and inept discharge of functions by judicial officers entrusted with the duty of giving effect to this welfare legislation,” reads the order dated July 13.

While granting bail to the minor, the court said its order be placed before the Administrative Judge of Gurdaspur district “for taking necessary remedial action, as deemed fit, for improving the standard of functioning of the Principal Magistrate concerned”.

According to the case details, an FIR was registered at a police station in Batala in August 2019 under Sections 363, 366, 376, 506, 34 and 120-B IPC along with Sections 4 and 6 of the POCSO Act. The prosecution case was that two persons had abducted a minor girl. While the co-accused was alleged to have raped the girl, the accused — the petitioner before HC — was alleged to have stood guard in the meantime. The main accused was acquitted by the Sessions Court on March 3 but the petitioner remained confined to the Special Home pending verdict by the JJB.

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Justice Kumar in the bail order said the fact regarding acquittal of the main accused was specifically raised before the JJB but “it is utmost surprising to note that after referring to the acquittal, the learned Principal Magistrate opined that the petitioner had remained present at the spot while the heinous offence of rape was committed by the co-accused”. The court further said that “to add insult to injury”, the JJB’s order also states that the evidence of the victim was yet to be recorded in the case.

“If the Principal Magistrate was made aware of the fact that the co-accused had already been acquitted, as recorded by him on page 2 of the order, he could not have made these mistakes in the concluding paragraph. These errors also demonstrate the level of application of mind by the Principal Magistrate. These contradictions in the order speak for themselves and the inevitable inference that needs to be drawn from them reflects very poorly upon the judicial officer concerned,” the order reads.

The court also said it is “shocking to note” that the Principal Magistrate did not even refer to the extant enactment, which is Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, but mentioned the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000, which stood repealed thereby. It also observed that the very constitution of a JJB headed by a Metropolitan Magistrate with at least three years experience is with the intention that such an experienced judicial officer with the assistance of two social workers would be conscious of their “pious duty” to ensure protection of the rights of juveniles.

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“The powers, functions and responsibilities of the Board, prescribed under Section 8 of the Act of 2015, and the tone and tenor of Section 12 thereof, which deals with grant of bail to a child in conflict with the law, manifest in no uncertain terms the duty cast upon the Juvenile Justice Board to implement the letter of the law in true spirit, keeping in mind the ultimate interests of the child,” the order reads.

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