Barun Chandra Thakur v. Master Bholu and another (2022) – Navigating the Nuances of Juvenile Justice
The Juvenile Justice System in India underwent significant changes in 2015, particularly with regard to handling juveniles accused of heinous crimes. A case that significantly exemplifies these changes and the issues surrounding them is the Ryan International School Murder Case, which was examined extensively under the purview of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015.
- On 8th September 2017, a Class II student was found brutally murdered with his throat slit inside a bathroom of the Ryan International School at Bhondsi, Gurugram in Haryana.
- The case garnered extensive media attention and was subsequently transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the premier investigating agency in the country.
- The CBI apprehended the accused, a Class XI student, who was above the age of 16 at the time of the crime.
- Given his age, this case would put into effect Section 15 of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015, which requires the Juvenile Justice Board (JJB) to conduct a preliminary assessment of the juvenile in conflict with the law.
- The objective is to determine whether the said juvenile should be tried as an adult or as a juvenile.
- Due to the age of the accused, labeled ‘Bholu’ (to comply with Section 74 of the Juvenile Justice Act, which assigns pseudo-names to protect the identity of the accused and the victim), this case became a significant issue in terms of its legal implications.
- At the time of the incident, Bholu was 16 years, 5 months, and 5 days old, making it necessary for the Juvenile Justice Board (JJB) to conduct a preliminary assessment.
- Upon completion of the assessment, the JJB passed an order under section 18(3) of the JJ Act, declaring that Bholu should be tried as an adult due to the nature of his offense.
- This case, as a result, was transferred to the Children’s Court for trial.
- However, multiple appeals were filed against the order, first in the Children’s Court, then in the High Court, and eventually as a Special Leave Petition in the Supreme Court.
Issues before Court
Key issues that emerged from this case included:
- The meaning and operationalization of the word ‘may’ in Section 15 of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015. This section allows the Board to take the assistance of experienced psychologists or other experts while assessing the child.
- The methodology to assess a child under Section 15 of the Act, including the mental and physical capacity of the child to commit the offense, the ability to understand the consequences of the offense, and the circumstances in which the offense was committed.
- The absence of detailed guidelines in the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015 or the Model rules to conduct the preliminary assessment.
- The Supreme Court judgement in the Barun Chandra Thakur vs. Master Bholu case added clarity to the issues raised. The court interpreted the word “may” in Section 15 of the JJ Act as mandatory when the Board does not consist of a professional with a degree in child psychology or psychiatry.
- However, if the Board has a member with expertise in the field, they may choose to take or not take external assistance.
- Furthermore, the court stated that the mere mental capacity to commit an offense, as proven by an average IQ score, is not sufficient to gauge the ability to understand the consequences of the offense.
- It emphasized that these consequences should be evaluated in a broad context, encompassing not just immediate outcomes, but also long-term implications for the victim, the accused child, their families, and society at large.
- Finally, the court stressed the need for detailed guidelines for the preliminary assessment, calling on the Central Government or the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights or the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights to consider issuing guidelines that may assist and facilitate the Board.
- This case highlights the nuanced complexities in dealing with juvenile crime under the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015.
- It has underscored the importance of expert involvement in assessing the juvenile’s understanding of the crime and its consequences, along with the need for comprehensive guidelines for such assessments.
- The rejection of the Special Leave Petition leaves Bholu to be reassessed, but his current age (21 years) raises further questions about the mechanisms of the assessment process.
This article is part of the series “Landmark Judgements that Shaped India” under the Indian Polity Notes & Prelims Sureshots. We aim to make the articles comprehensive while leaving out unnecessary information from the UPSC perspective. If you think this article is useful, please provide your feedback in the comments section below.