Shilpa Mittal v State of NCT of Delhi
Criminal Appeal no. 34 of 2020
Arising out of Special Leave Petition (Crl.) No. 7678 of 2019, decided on 9th Jan. 2020
Bench: Deepak Gupta, Aniruddha Bose, JJ.
Relevant Provisions of Law: Section 304 – Indian Penal Code (1860); Section 2 (12), 2 (13), 2(35) & 2 (45) – Juvenile Justice Act (2015) and Article 142 – Constitution of India.
A juvenile was alleged to have committed an offence punishable under Section 304 of the Indian Penal Code,1860 (IPC). Such an offence was punishable with a maximum punishment of imprisonment for life or up to 10 years and fine in the first part and imprisonment up to 10 years or fine, or both in the second part. No minimum sentence had prescribed for such offence.
Since, the juvenile in the present case was above 16 and below 18 years of age, the Juvenile Justice Board held the crime to be of a heinous nature and ruled that the juvenile should be tried as an adult. Further appeal was made to the High Court, wherein it was held that since no minimum sentence is prescribed for such an offence, the said offence did not fall within the ambit of Section 2(33) of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 (JJ Act). This judgement of High Court was challenge under the present appeal.
Whether an offence prescribing a maximum sentence of more than 7 years imprisonment but not providing any minimum sentence, or providing a minimum sentence of less than 7 years, can be considered to be a ‘heinous offence’ within the meaning of Section 2(33) of the JJ Act?
Firstly, the Court traced the historical backdrop as well as significance associated with the JJ Act. After doing so, the Court indulged in a bare reading of sections of JJ act which clearly showed that a child or a juvenile is a person who has not completed 18 years of age, and a child in conflict with law is a child/juvenile who commits an offence when that child/juvenile has not completed 18 years of age. After this, the Court considered the legal definitions of the existing categories of offences.
· ‘Petty offences’ as defined under Section 2(45), refers to offences for which the maximum punishment provided under any law, is imprisonment up to 3 years.
· ‘Serious offences’ have been defined as offences for which punishment under any law is imprisonment between 3 to 7 years.
· ‘Heinous offences’ have been defined to mean offences for which the minimum punishment under any law is imprisonment for 7 years or more.
After considering all this, the Court recognized, that the issue in the present case was that there was a fourth category of offences which wasn’t defined under the JJ Act viz., offence where the maximum sentence is more than 7 years imprisonment, but no minimum sentence or minimum sentence of less than 7 years is provided. Furthermore, the bench found it difficult to ascertain whether the legislature intended to include this fourth category of offences in the category of heinous offences or not. However, after conducting a thorough study of the act and applying the principles of interpretation in accordance with the Golden Rule of Interpretation laid down in the case of Grey vs. Pearson and the precedent in this regard laid down under the case of McMonagle vs. Westminster City Council, the Court opined that there was an existing, fourth category of offences which had not been dealt under the JJ Act.
Additionally, propounding upon the aspects related to the Legislative Intent the Court held that, it cannot be said with certainty whether the Legislature intended to include this fourth category of offences within the ambit of ‘heinous offences’ or not. But the bench did hold, that there was a gross mistake committed by the framers of the legislation and the fact was, that the legislation didn’t take into consideration the fourth category of offences.
Despite of recognizing this legislative gap within the act, the Court asserted that it might be able to fill such gaps within the legislations by saying that these offences should be treated as heinous offences but, it won’t be able to legislate on such issues. Because, on the one hand there existed some offences within this category which may in general parlance could be termed as heinous. Furthermore, there were many other offences in this regard, which cannot be termed as heinous offences.
Consequently, the Court held its decision for the welfare of the children. Due to absence of any action by legislature, the SC exercised its powers under Article 142 of the Constitution and held that from the date when the JJ Act came into force, all children who have committed offences falling within such fourth category shall be dealt with in the same manner as children who have committed ‘serious offences’.