Supreme Court declines bail to 16-year-old rape accused

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In what could trigger a debate on the need for restricting the statute mandated leniency of criminal law towards juveniles in the 16-18 age group, the Supreme Court on Thursday declined to grant bail to a 16 year-old boy who is accused of sexually assaulting a 14 year-old girl.

Though the medical reports prima facie appeared in favour of the boy, a bench of CJI N V Ramana and Justice Surya Kant felt that given the serious nature of the offence, it would be prudent to wait till the trial court recorded the testimony of the minor rape survivor.

Appearing for the minor in conflict with law, advocate Manu Yadav told the bench that the HC ignored the statutory mandate in the Juvenile Justice Act to release a minor in conflict with law on bail irrespective of whether he has committed a cognisable or non-cognisable offence. “It is a mandatory provision. He is a school going boy and is entitled to bail,” he argued.

The bench said it was aware of the provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act but the nature of the alleged crime is such that it would be imprudent to grant bail to the boy at this stage. “You wait till the rape survivor is examined by the trial court. You can renew your bail plea after she has been examined by the trial court,” the bench said.

When Yadav said that the trial could take a long time to get completed as most trial courts are closed for physical hearing because of pandemic, the CJI-led bench said the HC has fixed a time-frame for the completion of the trial. The SC directed the trial court to strictly adhere to the one-year time schedule fixed by the HC for completing the trial.
Section 12 of the JJ Act provided that “(1) When any person, who is apparently a child and is alleged to have committed a bailable or non-bailable offence, is apprehended or detained by the police or appears or brought before a (Juvenile Justice) Board, such person shall, notwithstanding anything contained in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 or in any other law for the time being in force, be released on bail with or without surety or placed under the supervision of a probation officer or under the care of any fit person:

Provided that such person shall not be so released if there appears reasonable grounds for believing that the release is likely to bring that person into association with any known criminal or expose the said person to moral, physical or psychological danger or the person’s release would defeat the ends of justice, and the Board shall record the reasons for denying the bail and circumstances that led to such a decision.”

Section 12(2) said, “When such person having been apprehended is not released on bail under subsection (1) by the officer-in-charge of the police station, such officer shall cause the person to be kept only in an observation home in such manner as may be prescribed until the person can be brought before a Board.”

Section 12(4) said, “When a child in conflict with law is unable to fulfil the conditions of bail order within seven days of the bail order, such child shall be produced before the Board for modification of the conditions of bail.”

The debate over apparent negative societal impact of leniency towards juveniles in the age group of 16-18 was triggered by the involvement of a minor, who was just short of 18 years, in the Nirbhaya case that rocked the country and brought about changes in the criminal laws dealing with sexual assault cases. But, the minor got away with light punishment.

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