Today the Juvenile in the Delhi Gang Rape was sentenced to three years imprisonment amongst a torrent of outrage. Many saw this as a failure of the criminal justice system even though the Juvenile was punished to the maximum extent possible under the Juvenile Justice Act. The statute which is made with a view towards reformation of persons under 18 years of age also came in for some sharp criticism with many suggesting amendments to it. Many of these are motivated by the horrific and barbarous portrayals of the rape by the Juvenile.
Though well intentioned to me such calls for justice are misplaced. To my mind, by limiting itself to the provisions of the JJ Act the judges have bravely resisted playing to the gallery of public opinion. The dangers which would arise from any twisted interpretation to impose a higher or more severe sentence would affect other cases as well. Also, I remain deeply suspicious of the vague proposals and phrases to carve exceptions for heinous crimes committed by juveniles. Phrases such as, “rarest of the rare” have been richly analyzed in Supreme Court judgments considering Death Penalties. However, as per the recent admission of a former Judge as a legal ingredient lacks clarity and still allows a judge wide discretion in sentencing and sanctioning capital punishment.
Finally, I personally doubt that the juvenile will return a reformed member of society. In all likelihood he may commit a crime again. However, there is the stray chance that he does reform in those three years. That is the hope the Juvenile Justice Act contains within its various provisions. It is the same optimism which I grudgingly share.