NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court has said lodging juveniles in adult prisons amounts to deprivation of their personal liberty.
A bench of Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and J B Pardiwala also rued about lack of awareness about the rights of the child and correlated duties, saying it remained low among the functionaries of the juvenile justice system.
"Once a child is caught in the web of adult criminal justice system, it is difficult for the child to get out of it unscathed. The bitter truth is that even the legal aid programmes are mired in systemic bottlenecks and often it is only at a considerably belated stage of the proceeding that the person becomes aware of the rights, including the right to be differently treated on the ground of juvenility," the bench said.
The top court here was dealing with a writ petition filed by Vinod Katara, who claimed to be of juvenile on the date of murder on September 10, 1982, for which he was undergoing life sentence.
His conviction and sentence was upheld by the Allahabad High Court as well as the Supreme Court in 2016.
However, on a direction by the High Court, the Juvenile Justice Board set up a medical board to examine the petitioner. Following the x-rays of the skull and sternum, the board gave a finding that the petitioner was around 15 years of age at the time of incident in 1982.
He also relied upon a document in the form of family register, issued under the UP Panchayat Raj (Maintenance of Family Registers) Rules, 1970 which showed his year of birth as 1968, indicating that he was about 14 years of age in 1982.
The UP government counsel opposed the plea saying family register in not admissible as evidence in such cases. He also questioned the findings of the medical board.
The court agreed to the contention that the document of family register cannot be accepted as equivalent to matriculation certificate to prove the age of the accused, yet its evidentiary value will have to be looked into in the course of the inquiry.
It ordered conducting of an ossification test of the petitioner at Allahabad Civil Hospital by a team of three doctors, including a radiologist. The court also told the sessions court to conduct an inquiry within one month into the claim of the petitioner and examine genuineness and authenticity of the family register as ossification test may not be absolutely helpful in determining his exact age at the time of incident.