SC puts on hold verdict of juvenile Delhi bus rapist

Bringing some hope for those seeking adult punishment for the 17-year-old who was the most vicious attacker in the murderous gang-rape of a medical intern in Delhi last December, the Supreme Court today said that the Juvenile Justice Board (JJB) must hold its verdict till it decides a plea seeking a fresh interpretation of the term 'juvenile'.

Supreme Court of IndiaA bench headed by Chief Justice P Sathasivam asked the petitioner, Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy, to inform the JJB of its decision, and posted the case for hearing on 14 August.

Advocate Anoop Bhambani, appearing for the juvenile, opposed Swamy's plea and sought more time to file a response to his public interest litigation (PIL) plea.

The union government also opposed Swamy's plea, saying a third party should not intervene in a criminal case; and also that any decision taken by the Supreme Court in this case cannot be applied retrospectively.

The bench said the issue raised by the petition needs to be examined along with well as the maintainability of the plea.

The young rapist would get a maximum of three years in a correction facility if he is tried as a juvenile. Swamy has sought that the "mental and intellectual maturity" of minor offenders be considered instead of the age limit of 18 years while fixing their culpability.

On 23 July, the apex court agreed to hear his plea.

The JJB has already convicted the juvenile for robbing carpenter Ram Adhar with the other adult co-accused by luring him into the same bus in which the girl was gangraped and assaulted, but has delayed sentencing till 5 August.

The youngster was one of six persons who gang-raped a 23-year-old woman in a moving bus in New Delhi with a viciousness that aroused the conscience of the nation. Her male friend was also thoroughly beaten up; and both were dumped naked on the pavement.

The rape victim subsequently died in hospital after a 13-day battle for life.

The male friend has alleged police careleness – they spent a long time battling over whose responsibility the case was, even as the duo lay battered on the pavement and freezing naked in a Delhi December.

However that aspect is so routine in India's VIP-oriented police system, that it has escaped widespread attention.

Of the other five accused, four including the bus driver are facing trial in a fast-track court. Proceedings against key accused Ram Singh were nullified after he was either lynched or committed suicide in Delhi's Tihar Jail on 11 March. He was found hanging in his prison cell.

In his petition, Swamy has said the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act (JJA) provides for a "straitjacket" interpretation of the term 'juvenile' that a person below the age of 18 years is a minor and it was in violation of the United Nations Convention for the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and Beijing Rules on the issue.

The UNCRC and Beijing Rules say the presumption of "the age of criminal responsibility" be fixed while "bearing in mind the mental and intellectual maturity" of the offender, he has said.