Accused Was A Juvenile At The Time Of Occurrence: SC Quashes Life Sentence In A Four Decade-Old Murder Case

The Supreme Court observed that a contract is void if prohibited by a statute under a penalty, even without express declaration that the contract is void

The Supreme Court Bench comprising of Justices S. Abdul Nazeer and Sanjiv Khanna set aside the life imprisonment sentence imposed on a person accused in a 1981 murder case noticing that he was less than 18 years of age on the date of commission of the offence. The Court however upheld the conviction and directed the Juvenile Justice Board to pass orders regarding detention and custody under the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000.

The court observed that, “The conundrum is in light of the definition of ‘juvenile’ under the 1986 Act, which was below sixteen years in case of a boy and below eighteen years in case of a girl on the date the boy or girl is brought for first appearance before the court or the competent authority, whereas the 2000 Act, as noticed below, does not distinguish between a boy or girl and a person under the age of eighteen years is a juvenile. Further, under the 2000 Act, the age on the date of commission of the offence is the determining factor.”

In light of the conflicting views expressed by the Court on application of the 2000 Act to the pending proceedings, vide decisions in Arnit Das v. State of Bihar and Umesh Chandra v. State of Rajasthan, the matter was referred to a Constitution Bench and decided in the case reported as Pratap Singh v. State of Jharkhand and Another.

The Constitution Bench was of the opinion:

On the second question, the 2000 Act would be applicable in a pending proceeding instituted under the 1986 Act in any court or authority, if the person had not completed eighteen years of age as on 1st April 2001, when the 2000 Act came into force. On the first question, it was held that the reckoning date for the determination of the age of the juvenile is the date of the offence and not the date when he is produced before the authority or in a court. Consequently, the 2000 Act would have prospective effect and not retrospective effect except in cases where the person had not completed the age of eighteen years on the date of commencement of the 2000 Act. Other pending cases would be governed by the provisions of the 1986 Act.”

In light of the legal position the Court referred to judgments of Dharambir v. State (NCT of Delhi) and Another, Mumtaz v. State of U.P, Bijender Singh v. State of Haryana [Bijender Singh v. State of Haryana, (2005) 3 SCC 685 : 2005 SCC (Cri) 889], therefore held that:

Juvenility is determined by the age on the date of commission of the offence. The factum that the juvenile was an adult on the date of enforcement of the 2000 Act or subsequently had attained adulthood would not matter. If the accused was juvenile, the court would, even when maintaining conviction, send the case to the Board to issue direction and order in accordance with the provisions of the 2000 Act.”