Law

Juvenile Justice and the Mercedes Hit-and-Run Case: What the Experts Have to Say

A day after the juvenile offender was denied bail, experts talk about what went wrong and how these cases should be handled.

The Mercedes after the accident that killed Siddharth Sharma, allegedly driven by a minor.

The Mercedes allegedly driven by the minor, after the accident that killed Siddharth Sharma.

New Delhi: The Juvenile Justice Board on Tuesday rejected the bail plea of the minor accused of mowing down and killing 34-year-old Siddharth Sharma with his Mercedes Benz. The juvenile is a ‘repeat offender’, penalised thrice last year for breaking traffic rules – twice for speeding and once for a parking violation.

The board also reprimanded the parents for giving the juvenile the car, saying that their “bad parenting” had endangered lives of people.

The victim’s family had earlier released CCTV footage of the hit-and-run, which shows the car being driven at about 80 km per hour, not slowing down and hitting the victim with a force that causes him to fly about 10 feet in the air.

The family’s driver had first come forward saying he was driving the car, but later withdrew this statement when he learnt that the victim had died. The Delhi police charged the juvenile with culpable homicide last week. His father was also arrested for abetting the crime, but later released.

The victim’s family has asked that the juvenile be tried as an adult, especially given that his 18th birthday was only a few days away.

Given the nature of this offence, it’s hard to ignore certain questions. Who should be held responsible here? Could things have gone differently if authorities had handled the previous crimes differently? How should cases like this be handled?

Enakshi Ganguly. Credit: haqcrc.org

Enakshi Ganguly. Credit: haqcrc.org

“Discussions on this case have gone the way they were about the juvenile in the December 16 case,” Enakshi Ganguly, co-director of Haq Child Rights Centre, told The Wire. “It’s about making an example of one case and then forgetting about the system. Clearly there has been an offence. If this boy was a ‘repeat offender’, clearly he has come into the system earlier too – what was the juvenile justice system doing at that time? Why did the system not take the boy and the rich parents, who gave him the car ,to task on those occasions?”

Others working on child rights have made a similar point on the responsibility of the parents. “What happened to parental responsibility in this incident?” asks co-founder of the NGO Leher, Nicole Rangel, on the NGO’s website. “What would have been the right thing for them to do? As hard as it would be for any parent, they should have stepped up to take full responsibility for their son’s actions… Presumably, the family that owns a Mercedes is one of sound financial means, and it can be assumed that they have had a reasonable amount of education. It was later discovered that during the last one year the teenager had been fined twice for speeding and once for a parking violation. Therefore, it would be fair to ask what his parents were doing when these offences were committed? Shouldn’t they be held accountable for their own inactions, and consequently, their son’s actions?”

“Juvenile justice is a framework and a system that protects, reforms and rehabilitates the young. The concept of juvenile justice is derived from the belief that both problems of delinquency as well as that of children and youth in abnormal circumstances cannot be resolved by the traditional processes of criminal law,” added Ganguly, arguing that trying the perpetrator as an adult would not solve the problem.

“Hence, the system is not designed to deal with young offenders alone. Its role is to provide specialised and preventive treatment services for children and young persons as a means of ‘secondary prevention, rehabilitation and socialisation’. Juvenile justice does not mean the offending child must walk free, as is being projected by society and the media. It means that the child must be held responsible and accountable for the offence he/she has committed – except that it is in a separate justice system so that the children have a second chance to reform and re-integrate into society. If this is the purpose of the system, the actors in it clearly did not perform their roles. The juvenile justice system is meant to be both preventive as well as penal. If it had performed its role as it was meant to, this boy’s offence could have been prevented. The solution lies in much more efficient implementation of the law,” she concluded.

Piyush Tewari. Credit: savelifefoundation.org

Piyush Tewari. Credit: savelifefoundation.org

Piyush Tewari, CEO of the SAVELife Foundation that works on road safety issues, pointed out that existing legislation had not been properly utilised. “The Motor Vehicles Act, even if not stringent enough as far as road safety is concerned, contains Section 180 that penalises anyone giving a vehicle to an unauthorised person. Had the juvenile’s father been severely punished under this section when he was caught before, they would probably not have allowed him to drive again. It is up to the police to apply this charge,” he told The Wire.

“Also, these cases are not uncommon,” Tewari added. “They need to be dealt with strictly in the first instance, because a vehicle is a weapon in the hands of an untrained and unauthorised person. Punishments also need to be made more stringent, a person with a Mercedes is not going to mind paying a few thousand rupees as fine.”