SC acquits woman sentenced to life imprisonment who was juvenile at the time of commission of the offence

A Bench of Justices Abhay S. Oka and Ujjal Bhuyan opined that the appellant ought to have been dealt with per Section 21 of the Juvenile Justice Act, 1986, and sent to a special home instead of being awarded life imprisonment. 

RECENTLY, the Supreme Court acquitted a woman who was sentenced to undergo life imprisonment in a murder case after finding her to be less than 18 years old on the date of the commission of the offence.

A Bench of Justices Abhay S. Oka and Ujjal Bhuyan ordered that since the appellant had undergone incarceration for more than eight years, no purpose would be served by sending her before the Juvenile Justice Board.

The Bench was hearing an appeal against a May 3, 2010 judgment of the High Court of Chhattisgarh. The appellant was convicted for the offences punishable under Sections 302 and 201, read with Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and sentenced to undergo life imprisonment.

The issue of juvenility was raised by the appellant for the first time before the Supreme Court. On September 13, 2023, the Supreme Court directed the sessions court to hold an enquiry into that aspect of the issue of juvenility.

The additional sessions judge, Ramanujganj, district Balrampur, Chhattisgarh submitted a finding on October 30, 2023, which recorded the date of birth of the appellant as September 1, 1982. The date of the incident was June 15, 2000. Thus, the age of the appellant was 17 years, nine months and 14 days on that day.

A perusal of the report shows that apart from other documents, reliance has been placed on the entries in the school-leaving register of the school last attended by the appellant. This document is of the year 1988.

The name of the appellant appears at serial no.369 and her date of birth shown therein is September 1, 1982. Even the primary certificate examination result sheet of 1995 shows the same date of birth,” the Bench said.

The Bench noted that the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 was not in force when the incident occurred. Therefore, the case would be governed by the Juvenile Justice Act, 1986.

Under Clause (h) of Section 2 of the 1986 Act, a ‘juvenile’ has been defined to mean a boy who has not attained the age of sixteen years or a girl who has not attained the age of eighteen years.

Thus, on the date of occurrence of the offence, the appellant was a juvenile. The Bench opined that the appellant ought to have been dealt with in accordance with Section 21 of the 1986 Act. The maximum action that could have been taken against the appellant was to send her to a special home.

In the case of a girl of sixteen years of age, she could have been sent to a special home for a period of not less than three years. As per Section 22(1) of the 1986 Act, there was a prohibition on sentencing a juvenile to undergo imprisonment. There is a similar provision under Section 16 of the 2000 Act,” the Bench said.

Noting that the appellant had undergone incarceration for a period of more than eight years, the court directed the release of her from jail holding that it would not serve any purpose to send her to a special home.