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Law is clear on the point that a person who has been a juvenile in conflict with law at any stage of his/ her life cannot be made to suffer any kind of disqualification, even in case of conviction. However several children when they grow adults continue to suffer disqualification at the hands of various authorities. Few of them manage to take recourse to higher courts to seek protection and relief , while rest keep on suffering and surrender to the destiny.
On several occasions, individuals have approached Juvenile Justice boards seeking relief in case of them being disqualified or threatened to be disqualified on account of police’s disclosure of an inquiry instituted against them even when they were juveniles and in such cases, juvenile justice boards have passed orders prohibiting concerned authorities from disqualifying such candidates and also prohibiting police from making disclosure of juvenile cases.
Lack of awareness or knowledge about Juvenile Justice Act among police is often said to be the main reason for such disclosures and subsequent disqualification but the issue is far more complicated than this. There are gray areas.
For example, a significant question arises as to what a person, who is facing or had faced an inquiry in juvenile justice board/ Juvenile Court, is supposed to write in his application form where he or she is asked to furnish details of any criminal proceedings against the candidate or details of him or her being arrested or summoned or bound down by any court at any point of time. Can any authority compel a candidate to make disclosure of his inquiry while he or she was juvenile? Does it not violate the fundamental principle of “Fresh Start”? Is a juvenile supposed to carry his past forever? Unfortunately Courts have given no answer to such questions till date.
There have been two judgments from Delhi High Court, which dealt with the exact issue.
A person while filling up the application form wrote “No” in the column where he had to give details of any criminal case against him. He had got a case when he was a juvenile and that’s why he decided to write “No”. The reality got exposed in the post-appointment inquiry and his services got terminated. This matter came up for consideration in Writ Petition 11460 of 2004 before Hon’ble Delhi High Court, which delivered its judgment on 19.10.2006, which said:
There is no doubt and, in fact, it cannot be disputed that the petitioner was involved in a criminal case registered U/s 147, 323, 504, 506 of IPC since November, 1996. He has been acquitted of the said charge in the year 2003. His acquittal will not justify the wrong, which he committed and the incorrect information furnished by him would not stand corrected by his acquittal. It was obligatory on the part of the petitioner to give correct answers to the questions contained in the Form. He filled up the Form on 10.4.03 on which date he was fully grown up and was aware of the pendency of the proceedings initiated against him. The fact that he was 14 years old at the time of alleged commission of the offence would be inconsequential.
So it meant that an ex-juvenile in conflict with law has to disclose the details of his inquiry, immaterial of whether he was acquitted or not.
Recently in another case where the petitioner had landed in trouble for the reason that he answered column no. 12(a) of the job application form in the negative. The said column reads as follows:
“12(a) Have you ever been arrested prosecuted, kept under detention or bound down/fined convicted, by court of law for any offence or debarred/disqualified by any public Service Commission from appearing at its examination/selections, or debarred from taking any examination/rusticated by any university or any other education authority/Institution?”
Person wrote “No” but the truth came out in an inquiry report that he had got a case against him when he was just 8 year old. On receipt of this adverse report against the petitioner from the authorities, the respondents terminated his services. Petitioner (ex-juvenile in conflict with law) pleaded before High Court that he hails from a rural area and belongs to the economically weaker and backward section of society and had been implicated in a false case registered by the police in Haryana in 1994 when he was barely eight years of age. The petitioner was tried by the juvenile court and honorably acquitted of the charge as back as on 24th December, 1994 when he was still barely about eight years of age. Wide judgement dated 23.03.2010 in W.P. Civil 8509 of 2009, Delhi High Court held that:
From a bare reading of this statutory provision, it is evident that the legislative intent was that even the conviction for an offence under any law cannot be treated as a disqualification, which would attach to a person who is subject to the Juvenile Justice Act, 1986. The petitioner was acquitted of the offence with which he was charged. In view of the statutory provision, even if the petitioner had been convicted, the same could not have been treated as a disqualification for the purpose of employment by the respondents.
… the petitioner's implication in the criminal case and his being subjected to trial are of no relevance or legal consequence for any purpose at all. The disclosure of the information with regard to the acquittal of the petitioner was, therefore, wholly irrelevant and its non-disclosure in the given circumstances cannot be said to be with a view or intent to suppress any incriminating fact or was calculated to deceive.
We have also found that the form which the petitioner was required to fill did not contain any column requiring him to disclose that he had been acquitted in a criminal case. Additionally, we have found substance in the petitioner's contention that on account of his age at the time of his implication and acquittal, keeping in view the normal course of human conduct and development, it would be unreasonable to expect the petitioner to have recollection of events which had occurred when he was barely eight years of age. We have also found substance in the contention that it would be difficult for an eight year old to comprehend the proceedings, which took place. The impugned orders in the present case also cannot stand for the reason that the respondents do not take into consideration the fact that the petitioner was protected by the provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act, 1986 or of his acquittal by the judgment dated 24th December, 1994.
Accordingly, the action of termination of this person on account of not disclosing the details of his inquiry under JJ Act was set aside and Court ordered the petitioner to be reinstated in the service.
These two judgments make the entire picture more complicated where one judgment says that if a person is adult at the time filling up the form, omission to disclose the details of any case instituted even during the time of juvenility will amount to dishonesty and any termination because of this reason will stand good in law while the other judgment makes such decision subject to various considerations like tender age when the case was instituted.
Interestingly in the both the cases, Court did not give any finding on the illegality committed by the authorities who disclosed the juvenile cases in the inquiries. Disclosure of details of juvenile cases is totally prohibited by JJ Act.
I believe that a good number of people (juveniles and ex-juveniles in conflict with law) are suffering from disclosure and resultant disqualification across the country but we come to know about such incidents only in those cases where people take up litigation in order to protect their rights otherwise there may be and there are numerous individuals who just loose their career opportunities without even being noticed by anyone. It is high time that a clear position and policy is laid down in this regard.
Author, Anant Kumar Asthana, is a lawyer specializing in child rights litigation and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 92 12 11 71 05.