The Bombay High Court has quashed a sessions court order sentencing a man to 20 years in jail for raping a mentally challenged minor girl, holding that the accused was a minor at the time of the incident.
Justice A M Badar ordered for the accused, presently 21 years of age, to be released from jail and his case to be presented before the Juvenile Justice Board for passing appropriate orders in accordance with the provisions of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act.
The court was hearing an appeal filed by the man challenging an August 2016 order of a special Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) court convicting him, and two others, on charges of gangrape under Section 376 (D) of the IPC and the POCSO Act.
The court had sentenced the accused persons to 20 years in jail.
According to the prosecution, the man, along with two others, raped a mentally challenged minor girl living in their building in suburban Chembur.
The incident came to light when the girl's mother realised that she was pregnant following which an FIR was lodged.
The man in his appeal claimed that, at the time of the incident (March 15, 2013), he was only 16 years old and hence was entitled for benefit of provisions of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000.
Following this claim, the high court had, in March this year, directed the special POCSO court to conduct an enquiry and submit a report.
In June, the lower court submitted its report stating that the man was 16 years old at the time of the incident.
The high court, on July 27, accepted this report and directed for the trial court's conviction and sentencing order to be quashed and set aside.
"As the accused is found to be a juvenile on the date of commission of the offence, his case needs to be forwarded to the Juvenile Justice Board for passing appropriate orders.
The sentence passed by the trial court in the matter shall be deemed to have no effect," Justice Badar said in his order.
"The appellant/accused shall be released from prison forthwith and his case shall be forwarded to the Juvenile Justice Board," the court said.