The Supreme Court on Thursday granted bail to a 21-year-old man, who was 16 when he had allegedly killed a seven-year-old schoolmate in Gurugram in 2017. On Monday, the Juvenile Justice Board ruled that the accused will be tried as an adult.
The bench comprising justice Dinesh Maheshwari noted that the appellant’s liberty was being curtailed with his near five-year detention. The bail has been granted on such terms and conditions as may be imposed by the sessions judge, Gurugram. The accused will remain under the continued supervision of the probation officer.
The JJB board members separately assessed the accused on October 1 for more than four hours to determine his mental state. On July 13, the Supreme Court had ordered that the juvenile accused be re-examined to determine whether he should be tried as an adult or as a minor, and remanded the case to the JJB.
On September 8, 2017, the body of a Class 2 student was recovered with his throat slit inside the private school’s toilet. For the murder, the CBI had apprehended a class 12 student from the same school. The accused, who was 16 at the time of the incident, turned 21 this year on April 3.
Haryana Police, which initially investigated the murder, arrested the conductor of a school bus the same day – September 8, 2017, and said that he had confessed to the crime.
However, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which took over the case on November 6, apprehended the accused, who was studying in Class 11 of the same school, on November 7.
In December 2017, the JJB decided to treat the accused as an adult. The Punjab and Haryana high court, in October 2018 directed the board to make a fresh assessment. Both, the victim’s father and CBI, moved the Supreme Court on October 30, 2018, against the high court order, saying that the high court’s move was wrong and illegal and that it should have not upset the concrete findings of the previous two courts.
In November 2018, the apex court ordered a status quo in the case. The accused has been in an observation home since his arrest by CBI.
Dismissing the petitions on July 13 this year, the Supreme Court said that while considering a person an adult, one should look at their physical maturity, cognitive abilities, and social and emotional competencies.
A bench of justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Vikram Nath had suggested the Union government and the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) undertake an exercise for uniform guidelines for preliminary assessment of the mental and physical capacity of a juvenile to determine the nature of trial the delinquent should face.
It also rejected the view that if they have the mental capacity to commit the offence, they would also have the capacity to understand the consequences of the offence.
Following the top court order, the JJB on July 27 constituted a team of psychiatrists from Pandit Bhagwat Dayal Sharma Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences (PGIMS), Rohtak, to assess the mental state of the accused at the time of the murder.
According to Section 15 of The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, if a child of 16 years of age or above commits a heinous offence — a crime for which the minimum punishment is seven years imprisonment — the JJB is required to “conduct a preliminary assessment with regard to his mental and physical capacity to commit such offence, ability to understand the consequences of the offence and the circumstances in which he allegedly committed the offence” before taking a decision whether the child needs to be tried as an adult.
Prior to the 2015 amendment in the JJ Act, all children below the age of 18 years were treated as juveniles. The JJB is composed of a judicial officer and two social workers.
The report submitted by the experts on October 1 said that “there is no valid test or examination that can retrospectively determine the medical capacity, maturity and ability of the accused”.
Dr Joginder Singh Kairo, senior clinical psychologist and a board member, said the accused was admitted to the psychiatry department of PGIMS Rohtak on September 22 for a detailed assessment over two days. “During his stay there, he was observed and assessed, including a detailed psychological profiling and serial mental status examination. No active psychopathology was found at present,” he said.
“There have been a number of inconsistencies in the documented information and current interviews, so no valid conclusions can be drawn. There is no valid test or examination with reasonable scientific certainty that can retrospectively determine the medical capacity, maturity and ability to understand the consequences of the offence at the time of the commission of the offence as required by the court,” stated the report.
The board also heard the arguments by the CBI on October 3, the victim’s counsel on October 4, and the counsel of the accused on October 10 before reserving its order for October 12. The verdict was announced on Monday.
The agency, in a charge sheet, alleged that the accused had murdered the child in a bid to get the examinations postponed and a scheduled parent-teacher meeting cancelled.