December 16 gang rape-case: Juvenile may walk free on Sunday

New Delhi: Decks were cleared for the release on Sunday of the juvenile convict in the horrific December 16, 2012 gangrape case with the Delhi High Court today refusing to intervene, saying he cannot be stopped from walking free under the existing provisions of law.

The convict, now 20-year-old, is expected to walk out of the reformation home on December 20, at the end of his three-year jail term unless there is a stay from the Supreme Court.

Brushing aside the public outcry against his release, a high court bench of Chief Justice G Rohini and Justice Jayant Nath directed the Juvenile Justice Board to interact with the convict, his parents and concerned officials of Department of Women and Child Development regarding his 'rehabilitation and social mainstreaming'.

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The bench said BJP leader Subramanian Swamy's plea seeking stay on the release of juvenile convict cannot be allowed as the statutory and existing law was coming in its way.

"Having regard to the fact that the maximum stay that can be directed in the Special Home under Section 15(1) of the Juvenile Justice Act is three years and that the convict would be completing the period of three years by December 20, 2015, there cannot be any direction to continue his stay in the special home beyond December 20. Hence, we decline to issue any direction as prayed by the petitioner," the bench said while allowing the convict to walk free.

Six persons, including the juvenile, had brutally assaulted and raped a 23-year-old girl in a moving bus in south Delhi on December 16, 2012. The victim had died in a Singapore hospital on December 29, 2012.

Mukesh, Vinay, Pawan and Akshay were awarded death penalty by trial court in the gang rape and murder case which was later confirmed by Delhi High Court. Their appeals are pending before the Supreme Court. Accused Ram Singh had allegedly committed suicide in Tihar Jail on March 11, 2013, and proceedings against him were abated following his death.

"Crime has won and we have lost (jurm jeet gaya, hum haar gaye)" was the immediate reaction of the family of the victim. "Despite all our efforts for three years, our government and our courts have released a criminal. The assurance we were given was that we will get justice but that has not been delivered. We are very disappointed. Although we haven't seen him, not met him, but despite all our efforts, the criminal will walk free," a dejected Asha Devi, mother of the victim, told reporters.

The High Court said the issue of reformation of juvenile in conflict with law required deeper consideration and sought response of the Centre and Delhi government on the issue within eight weeks.

"The need for ascertaining the factum of reformation of the juveniles in conflict with law before they are released from the special home on expiry of the period of stay ordered by the JJ Board, is a larger issue of public importance which requires deeper consideration..." the bench said.

The release of the convict was also opposed by Centre which had said that several mandatory aspects were missing from the post-release rehabilitation plan which needed to be considered before setting him free.

In his petition, Swamy had claimed that there is lacuna in the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2000, as amended in 2011. JJ Board had sentenced the juvenile three years detention in reformation home.

In the petition, Swamy contended that "no provision has been made in the Act, to provide for vicious unregenerate convicted juveniles who despite having undergone the reformation process for the maximum penalty of three years custody in a special home, continue to be a menace to the society"...

"The question arises, in a very acute form, in the instant gangrape case, where the respondent no.1 (juvenile), one of the offenders, who was adjudged to be under eighteen years of age at the time of the offence, is about to complete the maximum period of the offence prescribed....," the plea had said.

The Supreme Court had earlier rejected Swamy's petition challenging the constitutional validity of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2000.

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