Nearly five years after the murder of a child at a Gurugram private school, the Supreme Court on Wednesday said the juvenile accused in the 2017 case should be examined afresh to decide whether he be prosecuted as an adult.
"The fate of the child in conflict with law should not be taken without conducting a meticulous psychological evaluation," the Supreme Court said.
It agreed with the finding of the Punjab and Haryana High Court that further assessment of the accused ought to have been carried out once the psychologist had recommended so and had also suggested the name of the institute.
A bench of Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Vikram Nath dismissed the appeals filed by the father of the murdered child challenging the October 11, 2018 order of the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
The Juvenile Justice Board in December 2017 held that the teenager accused of murder will be tried as an adult based on preliminary assessments conducted on his mental and physical capacity.
The board had said the teenager "had sufficient mental and physical capacity to commit the offence." The Supreme Court said the Juvenile Justice Board and the children's court were of the view that the mental capacity and the ability to understand the consequences of the offence were one and the same.
"That is to say that if the child had the mental capacity to commit the offence, then he automatically had the capacity to understand the consequences of the offence. This, in our considered opinion, is a grave error committed by them," the Supreme Court said.
The Supreme Court said the process of taking a decision on which the fate of the child in conflict with law precariously rests, should not be taken without conducting a meticulous psychological evaluation.
"We have no hesitation in agreeing with the ultimate result of the high court in remanding the matter for a fresh consideration after rectifying the errors on lack of adequate opportunity," the Supreme Court said.
Observing that children may be geared towards more instant gratification and not be able to deeply understand the long-term consequences of their actions, the Supreme Court said they are also more likely to be influenced by emotion rather than reason.
"Research shows that young people do know risks to themselves. Despite this knowledge, adolescents engage in riskier behaviour than adults (such as drug and alcohol use, unsafe sexual activity, dangerous driving, and/or delinquent behaviour). While they do consider risks cognitively (by weighing up the potential risks and rewards of a particular act), their decisions/actions may be more heavily influenced by social (e.g. peer influences) and/or emotional (e.g. impulsive) tendencies," the Supreme Court said.
"In addition, the lack of experience coupled with the child's limited ability to deeply understand the long-term consequences of their actions can lead to impulsive/reckless decision making," it said.
The high court had set aside a lower court order which said the 16-year-old student, accused of killing the child over a year ago, will be treated as an adult during the trial. The CBI had alleged that the teenager murdered the student on September 8, 2017, in a bid to get the examinations postponed and a scheduled parent-teacher meeting cancelled.