The Supreme Court has held that the main accused in a Mercedes hit and run case of 2016 will be tried as a juvenile and not as an adult.  The Court was facing two interpretations of the law and chose the interpretation in favour of children.

In a case of 2016, a 32-year old man lost his life in a road accident after being hit by a Mercedes. The case involved a car being driven by a teenager who was just a short while away from attaining the age of majority. The dilemma before the Court was whether the accused should be tried as an adult or as a juvenile as he was just on the verge of becoming a major.

Important questions of law were also raised regarding what exactly constitutes a ‘heinous offence’ under Section 2(33) of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015. The Delhi High Court had ruled in 2019 that the offence does not have a minimum sentence specified and therefore it cannot fall within the ambit of Section 2(33) of the Juvenile Justice Act. However, according to the Board’s decision, since the teenager was accused of charges under Section 304 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), he was to be tried as an adult owing to the ‘heinous offence’ he was charged with. The Bench of Justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose noted that the Juvenile Justice Act of 2015 took a departure from the previous Acts of 1986 and 2000 and categorized offences into classes of petty, serious and heinous offences.

The Juvenile Justice Act states in very precise terms that a juvenile is any person who is below the age of 18 and Section 2(33) of the Act 0f 2015 categorically states that an offence for which the minimum sentence of seven years imprisonment or more is prescribed shall be treated as a heinous crime. The Act also provides for the Juvenile Justice Board to carry out preliminary inquiry in case of heinous crimes being allegedly committed by juveniles above the age of 16.

This particular case fell within the fourth category – where either the prescribed minimum term is less than seven years or there is no minimum sentence prescribed at all. The appellant pointed out that if definitions are read literally, a large number of offences would be left out of the three categories. However, if the minimum prescription from the definition of ‘heinous offence’ is removed, then all offences not falling within the umbrella of petty or serious offence would fit within the scope of the term. However, the respondent argued that the court cannot rewrite the law. The Court also stated that it was not akin to ‘solving a jigsaw puzzle’ and that all offences would ‘fall into place’ if the minimum prescription was removed. The Court stated, “We are not solving a jigsaw puzzle where we have to put all the pieces in place. We are interpreting a statute which must be interpreted as per its language and intent…However, when the wording of the statute is clear but the intention of the Legislature is unclear, the Court cannot add or subtract words from the statute to give it a meaning which the Court feels would fit into the scheme of things.”

Hence, the Court ruled that the offences in the ‘fourth category’ which have not been included in any category shall be treated as serious offences till the time the Legislature fills the gap and clearly spells out its intent.

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Shilpa Mittal v. State of NCT of Delhi & Anr.