New Delhi (The Hawk): The Supreme Court decided on Wednesday that Shubam Sangra, a significant defendant in the gang rape and murder of an eight-year-old nomadic girl in J&K's Kathua in 2018, should be tried as an adult because he was not a minor at the time of the offence.
Justices J.B. and Ajay Rastogi were on a bench. Pardiwala stated: "A casual or cavalier approach while recording as to whether an accused is a juvenile or not cannot be permitted as the courts are enjoined to perform their duties with the object of protecting the confidence of a common man in the institution entrusted with the administration of justice. When an accused commits a heinous and grave crime like the one on hand and then attempts to take the statutory shelter under the guise of being a minor."
The bench stated that the accused is accused of committing a major offence and carrying it out in a well-planned manner, demonstrating his mental maturity rather than innocence, and that his claim of juvenility is more of a legal evasion or deception tactic and cannot be utilised to his advantage.
It took into account the medical board's report, which determined that the accused was older than 19 when the offence was committed.
The bench stated that, as noted by this court in the Ramdeo Chauhan alias Raj Nath case, a medical expert's estimate of age may not be a legally required substitute for proof and is only an opinion, but such an expert's opinion should not be discounted or disregarded when the court is uncertain about the age of a citizen claiming constitutional protection.
Justice Pardiwala, who wrote the decision on behalf of the bench, stated that if such expert opinion leads to a realistic probability regarding the range of his age, "in the absence of any other acceptable documents, the court must examine the same in the interest of justice."
The top court overturned the decisions made by the J&K High Court and Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM) of Kathua. "The contested decision made by the CJM, Kathua, and High Court is quashed. It is decided that the response accused shall be prosecuted in the same manner as the other co-accused in accordance with the law because they were not minors at the time the offence was committed. In its 66-page decision, the bench stated that the law should "follow its own course."
It refused to accept the birth certificate and academic records that had demonstrated the accused's youth. The bench stated that it is important to take note of the fact that the respondent accused has not made many arguments in support of the validity of the medical report created by the Special Medical Board, which is made up of five medical professionals.
"At the risk of being repetitive, the sole defence is to disregard the medical report because there is evidence of the patient's date of birth in the numerous records on file. In the interest of justice, we have made it quite apparent that the documents used to prove the applicant's date of birth do not inspire any confidence, and there is no other choice but to rely on the Special Medical Board's report, the court stated.
The offence for which the respondent is accused is horrific, and by any standard, it was carried out in a cruel and wicked manner. "Every aspect of the crime was planned and brutal. As a cruel crime that aroused concerns about community safety, this case attracted the attention and outrage of society across the nation, but especially in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the bench stated.
The top court did clarify, however, that the prosecution's and defense's ability to present evidence during the trial will be strictly used to establish whether an accused person is guilty or innocent.
The little girl was kidnapped in January 2018 and held captive in a small village temple before being raped there after being sedated for four days. Later, she was fatally bludgeoned. The Juvenile Justice Board (JJB(apex )'s court) proceedings against Sangra were put on hold in February 2020.
The Jammu and Kashmir administration argued that the Jammu and Kashmir High Court incorrectly upheld a trial court's ruling declaring the defendant to be a minor at the time of the offence in 2018.
Three defendants were given life sentences in the case by a special court in June 2019. Sanji Ram, the temple's custodian, Deepak Khajuria, a special police officer, and Parvesh Kumar were the defendants.
(Inputs from Agencies)