Allahabad High Court: The Full Bench of Sanjay Yadav, Mahesh Chandra Tripathi and Siddhartha Varma, JJ., in a very significant ruling expressed that:
“…writ of Habeas Corpus is not maintainable against the judicial order or an order passed by the Child Welfare Committee under the J.J. Act.”
Instant writ petition was listed in the reference made by the Division Bench of this Court, in order to consider the various provisions of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 and the law laid down by various Courts.
Following issues were framed by the Division Bench:
“(1) Whether a writ of habeas corpus is maintainable against the judicial order passed by the Magistrate or by the Child Welfare Committee appointed under Section 27 of the Act, sending the victim to Women Protection Home/Nari Niketan/Juvenile Home/Child Care Home?;
(2) Whether detention of a corpus in Women Protection Home/Nari Niketan/Juvenile Home/Child Care Home pursuant to an order (may be improper) can be termed/viewed as an illegal detention?; and
(3) Under the Scheme of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, the welfare and safety of child in need of care and protection is the legal responsibility of the Board/Child Welfare Committee and as such, the proposition that even a minor cannot be sent to Women Protection Home/Nari Niketan/Juvenile Home/Child Care Home against his/her wishes, is legally valid or it requires a modified approach in consonance with the object of the Act ?”
Bench noted that apart from the above framed issues there were some ancillary issues attached in cases of elopement of minor girls ad on recovery, sending them to Nari Niketan/Protection Home/Care Home.
Large number of habeas corpus petitions are filed by the parents/guardians or alleged husband for production of their wards or wife, who leave their parental houses in “run-away marriages”.
Court while dealing with habeas corpus petitions are required to ensure that the person whose production is sought is not illegally detained.
Further, elaborating more on the above aspect, Bench expressed that difficulty arises in the cases where the minor girl has entered into matrimonial alliance and is steadfast in her resolve to continue to cohabit with the partner of her choice. —- At times, the girl is even on family way.
On perusal of Section 11 and 12 of the Hindu Marriage Act, it would be seen that contravention of the prescribed age under Section 5(iii) of the Act would not be given as a ground on which the marriage could be void or voidable.
Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929 aims to restrain performances of child marriages but does not affect the validity of a marriage, even though it may be in contravention of the age prescribed under the Act. Performance of such marriage punishable under the law with imprisonment which can extend up to three months and with a fine. Even Section 12 of the Act provides to issue an injunction to prevent performance of any child marriage.
Supreme Court while considering the provisions of the Child Marriage Restraint Act has observed that contravention of the provisions of the said Act would only lead to punishment and marriage would not be void.
Now coming back to the issues framed, Court addressed the first issue in the following manner:
Nature and scope of the habeas corpus writ has been considered by the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court in Kanu Sanyal v. District Magistrate, Darjeeling, (1973) 2 SCC 674.
In dealing with a petition for habeas corpus, High Court has to see whether the detention on the date, on which the application is made to Court, is legal, if nothing more has intervened between the date of application and the date of hearing …”Ref. A.K. Gopalan v. Government of India, AIR 1966 SC 816.
High Court expressed that: writ of habeas corpus lies against the order of remand made by a court of competent jurisdiction. It is well accepted principle that a writ of habeas corpus is not to be entertained when a person is committed to judicial custody or police custody by the competent court by an order which prima facie does not appear to be without jurisdiction or passed in an absolutely mechanical or wholly illegal manner.
In Serious Fraud Investigation Office v. Rahul Modi, (2019) 5 SCC 266 the Supreme Court cancelled bail granted by the Delhi High Court to Rahul Modi and Mukesh Modi accused of duping investors of several hundred crores through a ponzi scheme run by their Gujarat based other co-operative societies. Both the accused were released by the Delhi High Court in a habeas corpus writ petition even though they were remanded to judicial custody under the orders of a competent court.
Proceeding further to analyse the questions, Bench opined that the Magistrate or the Committee in case directing the girl to be kept in protective home under the J.J. Act the Magistrate or the Committee, should give credence to her wish.
In order to bring more clarity on the matter, Bench referred to the decision of Supreme Court in Raj Kumari v. Superintendent Women Protection House, 1997 (2) A.W.C. 720, wherein it was held that a minor cannot be sent to Nari Niketan against her wishes and the same preposition of law is being incorporated in the orders passed by this Court while entertaining the Habeas Corpus Writ Petition of minor girl, who has been detained in Nari Niketan by a judicial order.
High Court considered an issue as to whether there is any authority for detention of the corpus with any person in law.
Can Magistrate direct the detention of a person?
Corpus was detained in the Nari Niketan under the directions of the Magistrate, the first thing to be determined is – whether the Magistrate can direct the detention of a person in the situation in which the petitioner is. To which the answer was no the magistrate has no absolute right to detain any person at the place of his choice or any other place unless the same could be justified by some law and procedure.
Detention at Nari Niketan
Elaborating further, Bench expressed that no law has been quote with regard to whether the Magistrate may direct detention of a witness simply because she does not like to go to any particular place. Hence, in such circumstances, the direction of the Magistrate that she shall be detained at Nari Niketan is absolutely without jurisdiction and illegal.
It is the paramount responsibility of the Committee to take all necessary measures for taking into account the child’s wishes after making due enquiry, which contemplates under Section 36 of J.J. Act and take final decision.
Therefore, Bench stated that in case corpus is in Women Protection Home pursuant to an order passed by the Child Welfare Committee, which is neither without jurisdiction nor illegal or perverse, the detention of the corpus cannot be said to be illegal and in case petitioner is aggrieved with the Child Welfare Committee or Magistrate’s order, petitioner is at liberty to take recourse or remedy of an appeal or revision under Sections 101 and 102 of the J.J. Act.
In the present matter, Bench observed that the petitioner corpus was 17 years, one month and 8 days old, hence was directed to be placed in Women Protection Home, since she came under the ambit of a child as defined under Section 2(12) of the J.J Act.
Once corpus is minor and the girl had refused to go with her parents, then in such situation arrangement has to be made. Her interest in paramount.
Therefore, wish of minor and the wish/desire of girl can always be considered by the Magistrate concerned/Committee and as per her wishes/desire further follow up action be taken in accordance with law under the J.J. Act.
Issue 1: If the petitioner corpus is in custody as per judicial orders passed by a Judicial Magistrate or a Court of Competent Jurisdiction or a Child Welfare Committee under the J.J. Act. Consequently, such an order passed by the Magistrate or by the Committee cannot be challenged/assailed or set aside in a writ of habeas corpus.
Issue 2: An illegal or irregular exercise of jurisdiction by a Magistrate or by the Child Welfare Committee appointed under Section 27 of the J.J. Act, sending the victim to Women Protection Home/Nari Niketan/Juvenile Home/Child Care Home cannot be treated illegal detention.
Issue 3: Under the J.J. Act, the welfare and safety of child in need of care and protection is the legal responsibility of the Board/Child Welfare Committee and the Magistrate/Committee must give credence to her wishes. As per Section 37 of the J.J. Act the Committee, on being satisfied through the inquiry that the child before the Committee is a child in need of care and protection, may, on consideration of Social Investigation Report submitted by Child Welfare Officer and taking into account the child’s wishes in case the child is sufficiently mature to take a view, pass one or more of the orders mentioned in Section 37 (1) (a) to (h).
[Rachna v. State of U.P., 2021 SCC OnLine All 211, decided on 08-03-2021]
Advocates before the Court:
For the Petitioner: Avinash Pandey, Amicus, Sri Shagir Ahmad
For the Respondent: G.A., JK Upadhyay