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February 13, 2012

Student killed teacher

In the shocking case of a
Chennai high school student allegedly killing
his teacher, the maximum sentence that can
be imposed on him is three years in a
reformatory. For, when children in the age group of
seven to 18 years commit any crime, they
are dealt with more humanely under the
Juvenile Justice Act 2000, which is in keeping
with the UN Child Rights Convention. As
they are considered to be less capable of controlling their impulses
or taking care of
themselves, the law provides a special
custodial, adjudicatory and sentencing mechanism for "juveniles in
conflict with law". Irrespective of the severity of the crime, the
cases against
juveniles in conflict with law do not go before a regular criminal
court but are instead taken before a juvenile justice board, which
is set up in every district. Each board consists of a judicial
magistrate and two social workers, one of whom at least should
be a woman. Though the law acknowledges the culpability of juveniles for the
crimes committed by them, its object is not to punish but to
rehabilitate them. While the magistrate is crucial to determining
whether the juvenile has committed an offence or not, the social
workers have a greater say in taking care of his needs. In the
event of a difference of opinion among the three members of the board,
the majority opinion will prevail. On arresting a juvenile, the police
are required to inform not just
his parents but also the state-appointed probation officer who is
tasked to assist the board. Pending the board's inquiry, the
juvenile is lodged in an "observation home" rather than the
regular jail. Even so, juveniles are also provided with a liberal bail
regime. The penalties prescribed for juveniles are less severe. Though the
minimum sentence that can be given for murder under the regular
law is life imprisonment, the juvenile law stipulates that no
juvenile can ever be sentenced to life. Once the board is satisfied
that the juvenile has committed the
offence he has been charged with, it has the option of passing a
wide range of orders ranging from admonition and counseling to
the parent and the juvenile to being released on probation for
good conduct or being sent to a special home for a maximum term
of three years. Under the UN rules, "The institutionalization of young
persons should be a measure of last resort and for the
minimum necessary period."

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