Supreme Court: Upholding the concurrent findings of High Court as well as Sessions Court and Juvenile Justice Board, the Division Bench comprising of Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud and B.V. Nagarathna*, JJ., passed a detailed verdict to guide determination of juvenility. Rejecting the contention of the appellant that the signatures of respondent on the admission forms of class 1 and class 8 (on the basis of which DoB was recorded for admission in matriculation) were identical and it could not be so on the admission form of class 1 as the respondent was only four and half years old when he was admitted to class 1, the Bench stated,
“Even if the documents seeking admission to class 1 and class 8 were discredited or eschewed, the fact remained that the mark-sheet pertaining to the matriculation supported the presumption that the respondent was less than 16 years of age on the date of incident.”
The respondent, one Nishant Solanki along with other accused was alleged to have attacked upon the appellant and his family causing serious injuries as well as death of appellant’s father and uncle. It had been stated that the accused were carrying a Farsa (battle-axe), lathi and balkaties (caneknives) and attacked the complainant/appellant and the members of his family. The respondent prayed before the Juvenile Justice Board, Baghpat to be declared as a juvenile delinquent, which was allowed by the Board.
The grievance of the appellant was that the respondent had been accused of committing grave offences under sections 147, 148, 149, 323, 307, 302 and 34 of the IPC along with other co-accused, but his claim of juvenility was erroneously allowed by the Board which was later on sustained by the appellate court as well as the Allahabad High Court.
Presumption for determining Juvenility
An application claiming juvenility could be made either before the Court or the JJ Board. When the issue of juvenility arises before a Court, it would be under sub-section (2) and (3) of section 9 of the JJ Act, 2015 but when a person is brought before a Committee or JJ Board, section 94 of the JJ Act, 2015 applies. Under Section 94 of JJ Act, if the JJ Board has reasonable grounds for doubt regarding whether the person brought before it is a child or not, the Board shall undertake the process of age determination by seeking evidence and the age recorded by the JJ Board to be the age of the person so brought before it shall, for the purpose of the JJ Act, 2015, be deemed to be true age of that person. Hence
“The degree of proof required in such a proceeding before the JJ Board, when an application is filed seeking a claim of juvenility when the trial is before the concerned criminal court, is higher than when an inquiry is made by a court before which the case regarding the commission of the offence is pending (vide section 9 of the JJ Act, 2015).”
On the basis of the documents mentioned section 94 of JJ Act, 2015 a presumption of juvenility may be raised. The said presumption is however not conclusive proof of the age of juvenility and the same may be rebutted by contra evidence let in by the opposite side, and if two views are possible on the same evidence, the court should lean in favour of holding the accused to be a juvenile in borderline cases. This is in order to ensure that the benefit of the JJ Act, 2015 is made applicable to the juvenile in conflict with law. At the same time, the Court should ensure that the JJ Act, 2015 is not misused by persons to escape punishment after having committed serious offences. The Bench added,
“Ossification Test cannot be the sole criterion for age determination and a mechanical view regarding the age of a person cannot be adopted solely on the basis of medical opinion by radiological examination. Such evidence is not conclusive evidence but only a very useful guiding factor to be considered in the absence of documents mentioned in Section 94(2) of the JJ Act, 2015.”
Further, when the determination of age is on the basis of evidence such as school records, it is necessary that the same would have to be considered as per Section 35 of the Evidence Act, 1882 inasmuch as any public or official document maintained in the discharge of official duty would have greater credibility than private documents.
Determination of Age by the JJ Board
The Certificate-cum-Marks Sheet of the High School issued by the Board of High School and Intermediate Examination U.P., was produced stating that the date of birth of respondent as 25-09-2004. Noticeably, when the respondent sought admission in class 1 no document in respect of birth was given and the date of birth was mentioned orally. The respondent continued his education there till class 8th and the transfer certificate recorded his date of birth as 25-09-2004 and the same was entered in the school records of class 9th. The Principal of the school first attended by the respondent stated that the respondent was a little above four years of age at the time of admission in class 1.
According to the JJ Board, it is only in the absence of the matriculation certificate that determination of age had to be by ossification test or any other latest medical age determination test. The date of the incident was 05-05-2020. Hence, as per the date of birth recorded in matriculation certificate, the respondent was 15 years and 8 months of age as on the date of the incident.
Observations and Findings
Rejecting the contention raised by the appellant that the signatures of respondent on the admission forms of class 1 and class 8 were identical and it could not be so on the admission form of class 1 as the respondent was only four and half years old when he was admitted to class 1, the Bench stated that in the absence of any rebuttal evidence, even if the documents seeking admission to class 1 and class 8 were discredited or eschewed, the fact remained that the mark-sheet pertaining to the matriculation supported the presumption that the respondent was less than 16 years of age on the date of incident.
Differentiating the instant case from the case of Sanjeev Kumar Gupta v. State of Uttar Pradesh, (2019) 12 SCC 370, wherein it was observed that that the date of birth reflected in the matriculation certificate could not be accepted as authentic or credible, the Bench observed that in the Sanjeev Kumar’s case the records maintained by the CBSE were purely on the basis of the final list of the students forwarded by the Senior Secondary School where the second respondent therein had studied from class 5 to 10, while there was clear and unimpeachable evidence of date of birth recorded by the school attended by the respondent till class 4 and which was supported by voluntary disclosure made by the accused therein while obtaining both, Aadhaar Card and driving license. Therefore, the Bench stated that in Sanjeev Kumar’s case, there was clear and unimpeachable evidence of date of birth which had been recorded in the records of the school which the respondent therein had attended till class 4, however, in the instant case in the absence of there being any evidence to negate the date of birth recorded in matriculation certificate same, the criminal revision deserved to be dismissed.
Considering the absence of any other document indicating the date of birth of the respondent contrary to what had been indicated in the matriculation certificate, therefore the Bench denied to differ from the order of the High court which sustained the judgment of the District & Sessions Court as well as of the JJ Board.
[Rishipal Singh Solanki v. State Of Uttar Pradesh, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 1079, decided on 18-11-2021]
Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has put this report together
For the Appellant: Anupam Dwivedi, counsel
For the State of U.P.: Sharan Thakur, Additional Advocate General
For the Respondents: Saurabh Trivedi, counsel
*Judgment by: Justice B.V. Nagarathna