Case analysis on Shilpa Mittal v State of NCT Delhi and Ors. (2020)
This Case analysis on Shilpa Mittal v State of NCT Delhi and Ors. AIR 2020 SC 405 is written by Vaishnavi Suresh and analysis the said case. Case analysis on Shilpa Mittal v State of NCT Delhi and Ors. (2020) I. Facts of the case An offence punishable under Section 304 of IPC,1860 was alleged to be committed by a… Read More »
This Case analysis on Shilpa Mittal v State of NCT Delhi and Ors. AIR 2020 SC 405 is written by Vaishnavi Suresh and analysis the said case.
Case analysis on Shilpa Mittal v State of NCT Delhi and Ors. (2020)
I. Facts of the case
An offence punishable under Section 304 of IPC,1860 was alleged to be committed by a juvenile (above 16 but below 18), which gives a maximum punishment of up to ten years and a fine with no minimum sentence prescribed.
The appeal filed in the Delhi High Court against the decision of the Juvenile Justice Board that held the juvenile to be tried as an adult for committing the heinous offence was overturned and held that juvenile is not liable under ‘heinous offence’ since no minimum sentence was prescribed for the offence in question and hence did not fall within the ambit of Section 2(33) of the Juvenile Justice Act. Against this decision of the High Court, the appellant approached the Hon’ble Supreme Court to decide this present matter.
The scope of ‘Heinous Offences’ under Section 2(33) of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015
Whether Section 2(33) of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015 extends to those offences prescribing either no minimum punishment or a minimum punishment of less than 7 years but states clearly the maximum punishment of more than 7 years.
III. Rules under Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children Act), 2015
- Section 2(33)
- Section 14
- Section 15
- Section 19
IV. Submissions by counsels
1. Appellant counsel (Sidharth Luthra)
The counsel for the appellant contended about the legislature’s failure in recognizing the “fourth category” of offences, as raised in the issue, within the ambit of ‘Heinous offences’ as provided under Section 2(33). Thus the council highlighted a wide range of offences falling under this ‘fourth category’ has yet to be specifically recognized under Juvenile Justice Act 2015.
The counsel submitted his contention to the court that if the word “minimum” is removed from the definition of ‘heinous crimes’ provided under Section 2(33) through the effect of the doctrine of surplusage (non-necessary) then all offences except for the petty and serious would naturally fall under the heading of ‘heinous offences’.
2. Respondent Counsel (Mukul Rohatgi)
The counsel for the respondent contended in response to the Appellant’s submission before the Court by reminding the Court’s limitation to rewrite a law based on the sole ground of an existing lacuna in the Act and that the statute could only be corrected by the Legislature itself. Furthermore, the counsel also submitted that the intention of the Legislature cannot be made out only on the sole reason of leaving out cognizance of a category of offences through this Act in question.
V. Court Decision
On analysing Section 2(33) read along with Sections 14, 15 and 19 of the Act, the Court reached to the conclusion that the Legislature’s intention behind the Act was to keep the statute in the best interest of the child by constructing a detailed procedure to be followed before trying the child as an adult.
Thus the Hon’ble Supreme Court held that offences that do not provide a minimum sentence of 7 years but a maximum punishment of more than 7 years cannot be considered as ‘heinous offence’ instead such offences will fall under the scope of ‘serious offences’ within the meaning of the Act and delete with accordingly till the Parliament takes the call on the matter.
VI. Cases Cited
- Sheela Barse (II) and Ors. v. Union of India (UOI) and Ors.– The court referred to this decision to highlight the history and development of Juvenile Justice Act in India wherein through this landmark judgment the court cited the need for a Central act binding in entirety as a replacement of the State act of Children’s Act providing uniformity in the subject-matter.
- Salil Bali v. Union of India (UOI) and Anr.– The court referred this case to provide a backdrop of the need felt for the amendment of Juvenile Justice Act 2000 after the agitation rampaged through the society post Nirbhaya’s case where all culprits except for the juvenile who was months away from turning 18, were awarded with the death sentence.
- Subramanian Swamy and Ors. v. Raju Thr. Member Juvenile Justice Board and Anr.– The court referred to this decision to highlight how the same court had rejected a petition that challenged the provisions of JJ Act of 2000 by reasoning the limitation on the Court to alter and legislate provisions that can only be exercised by the Legislature.
- Grey v. Pearson and Salmon v. Duncombe and Ors.– The court referred to these House of Lords judgement as a backing to the court’s rejection to appellant counsel’s submission to remove the word “minimum” from Section 2(33) of the Act that would have put all the offences with the maximum or minimum imprisonment of more than 7 years, naturally under the ambit of ‘heinous crimes’ provided under Section 2(33) of the Act. The court in support of these referred cases reasserted that a statute must be interpreted as per its language and intent unless there is absurdity or inconsistency with the wordings or if there is absolute intractability of language used, upon which the Court could modify the same.
- McMonagle v. Westminster City Council and Vasant Ganpat Padave v. Anant Mahadev Sawant – The court referred to this House of Lords case to highlight the power of the Court to modify a statute provided only when the intention of the Legislature is unambiguous and when the wordings of the statute in question contradicts the intention of the Legislature.
VII. Analysis in light of the above-cited cases
The purpose of the act of 2015 is to ensure that the children coming in conflict with the law are dealt with separately and not like adults. This call for the need for the trial of a child as an adult roared through society after the unfortunate incident of Nirbhaya’s case.
After the court rejecting few petitions challenging the provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act of 2000, the Legislature intended to include all offences with the punishment of more than seven years under the category of “heinous offences” through the Juvenile Justice Act of 2015. Section 2(33) of the Act was clear with the wordings that the proviso intends to do adult trial of a child if and only the minimum punishment of the offence that he/she committed was of seven years and the Court, in this case, was not willing to wish away with the word “minimum” from the provision by the effect of the doctrine of surplusage.
From the statement of Objects and Reasons in the Bill, it can be clearly understood that Act is to adjudicate and dispose of the case in the best interest of the child. This intention of Legislature has been resonated well throughout the Act of 2015, except for the categorisation of offences under the names of petty, serious, and heinous offences.
The purpose of categorising these offences in this Act was to re-check the psychological understanding and physical capacity of the child offender while committing the offence especially of those juveniles between the ages of 16-18 to be tried as adults or not which is provided under Section 15 of the Juvenile Justice Act Act. With the backing of the cases, McMonagle v. Westminster City Council and Vasant Ganpat Padave v. Anant Mahadev Sawant the court through this case has rightly said, through such a classification of offences provided in the statute has definitely cast ambiguity on the Legislature’s intention.
The court after interpreting the provisions of Section 14 which directs the Inquiry Board to conduct a preliminary assessment as per Section 15 in the cases of heinous offences, and the power of the Children’s Court under Section 19 giving the discretion to determine if the court finds any need for the trial of a child as an adult or not and most importantly, the proviso mandating the Courts that no child be sent to the jail before attaining the age of 21 even in the cases where a child is found guilty of heinous offences, the court finds uncertainty on Legislature’s intention.
When the Appellant Counsel made an effort to navigate the Court through the excerpts made by the Minister through his speech with respect to the objects and reasons and introduction of the Bill, the Court after a thorough analysis found that the Minister made reference to the offences like murder, rape, terrorism, for which the minimum punishment is more than 7 years and hence by default those offences are covered through the literal interpretation of Section 2(33) of the Act.
Despite negating the appellant counsel’s first part of contention, the Court has however agreed to the counsel’s submission that the Legislature has committed a gross mistake by omitting out this ‘fourth category’ of offences but still not become a valid reason for the court to override its power by legislating.
The court’s reasoning of its power to add or subtract the words from a statute holds justified only if the intention of the Legislature remains unambiguous is backed by the judicial precedents and even in various other cases, it has been highlighted that the court cannot add words to a statute or read words which are not there in it. Even on account of a defect or an omission in the statute, the court cannot correct such defect or supply the omission.
VIII. Comparative analysis
In the U.S, juveniles are tried as adults on attaining the age of 14 years except for some states like Vermont, Indiana, South Dakota where a child of even ten years can be tried as an adult. However, narrowing down to heinous crimes, even life imprisonment can be granted to a child aged of twelve years as the maximum punishment. Usually, a child of 13-15 years if found guilty of committing a gruesome crime, they are automatically tried as adult by shifting them to adult court after waiving the jurisdiction of juvenile courts.
The Youth Justice System prevailing in the U.K ordinarily puts the juvenile in Youth Court for the trial and will be tried as an adult in a Crown Court for the offences of homicide, and other grave crimes. In the U.K the quantum to determine is whether the youth offender has committed a ‘grave crime’ that evokes the applicability of Section 91(1) of the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000. Such offences include wherein the punishment is of 14 years or more for an adult; offences of sexual assault including sexual activity with a child family member or inciting a child family member to engage in sexual activity; and lastly any specified offences in relation to ammunition, weapons and firearms.
The Court after analysing the contentions made by both the counsels through the various decisions referred had reached the conclusion and decided not to subtract the word “minimum” from the context laid down in Section 2(33) of the Act by rejecting the submission of the Appellant counsel’s to consider the word ‘minimum’ as surplusage.
However, the court found the issue raised through this present case as a matter seeking paramount importance and felt duty-bound as to how to deal with this ‘fourth category’ of offences committed by the young offenders and to provide guidance to Juvenile Justice Board in respect of dealing with such offences which can be of serious or more than of serious nature.
Thus. The court reached its conclusion by directing to consider this fourth category of offences under ‘serious offences’ under Section 2(54) of the Juvenile Justice Act 2015, till the time Parliament takes the call on the matter after receiving the copy of the judgment.
From the legal perspective of analysis, the decision can be addressed as a judicious one since the court in this matter was mindful of the limitation of their powers. Even though the appeal was set aside, the judiciary did acknowledge the issue raised and was vigilant of the possible adversities that could be faced due to this ambiguity. It is important to observe that there is a wide range of offences that fall neither under the definition of serious nor heinous offences, as in counterfeiting, etc. and if the court had through this judgment allowed the appeal by modifying the provision, would have had the effect of treating offences like counterfeiting as heinous.
Definitely, an offence like counterfeiting is more than a serious offence but whether it can surely be categorised as a heinous offence is a matter of subjectivity and hence why the court has acted judiciously by leaving this sombre issue to the Legislature which requires to be attended, deliberated for the betterment of the society.
X. Suggestions and recommendations
The issue herein is not just about better incorporation of the ‘fourth category’ offences in the JJ Act of 2015 rather it goes the view through this lens. The ambiguity created by the Legislature could be exploited in future similar cases and circumstances. Failure of the legislature to recognise the offences that fall in the mid-way of serious and heinous offences could leave the complainant in despair and despond with the justice system for pronouncing a judgment that is nowhere close to what he/she had expected out of the justice system.
The court’s decision for not altering the statute with the reasons cited remains justified and the author of this paper cannot opine on where this fourth category of offences needs to be imbibed, due to the subjectivity of the terms ‘grievous’ and ‘serious’ offences. However, the author finds that the issue raised in this case would have been avoided had there been a period stipulated as the minimum punishment.
This brings the author to highlight the importance of the statutory guideline for the sentencing policy as suggested by the Malimath Committee (Committee on Reforms of Criminal Justice System) in 2003 and as reasserted by the Madhav Menon Committee in 2008. For the offences wherein only either maximum punishment or minimum punishment is prescribed, the uncertainty created therein gives away wide discretion to the judges while awarding the sentences which will be exercised as per their own judgment. Henceforth, the adoption of a uniform sentencing policy could be effective to plug the gaps of the issue raised through this case and likewise.
 Sheela Barse (II) and Ors. v. Union of India (UOI) and Ors., AIR 1986 SC 1773.
 Salil Bali v. Union of India (UOI) and Anr., AIR 2013 SC 3743.
 Subramanian Swamy and Ors. v. Raju Thr. Member Juvenile Justice Board and Anr., AIR 2014 SC 1649.
 Grey v. Pearson, (1857) 6 HLC 61.
 Salmon v. Duncombe and Ors., (1886) 11 AC 627.
 Supra at 4.
 Supra at 5.
 McMonagle v. Westminster City Council,  2 A.C. 716.
Vasant Ganpat Padave v. Anant Mahadev Sawant, 2019 SCC Online SC 1226.
 Supra at 2.
 Supra at 8.
 Supra at 9.
 Union of India v. Deoki Nandan Aggarwal, 1992 Supp (1) SCC 323.
Shyam Kishori Devi v. Patna Municipal Corpn. AIR 1966 SC 1678.
 Section 91, Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000.