A Large Bench of the Supreme Court of India refused to ‘read down’ the provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000 (“Act”) to understand that the true test of ‘juvenility’ is not the age but in the level of mental maturity of the offender.
The Court said, “Reading down the provisions of a statute cannot be resorted to when the meaning thereof is plain and unambiguous and the legislative intent is clear. The fundamental principle of the “reading down” doctrine can be summarized as follows. Courts must read the legislation literally in the first instance. If on such reading and understanding the vice of unconstitutionality is attracted, the courts must explore whether there has been an unintended legislative omission. If such an intendment can be reasonably implied without undertaking what, unmistakably, would be a legislative exercise, the Act may be read down to save it from unconstitutionality.”
“There is no ambiguity, much less any uncertainty, in the language used to convey what the legislature had intended. All persons below the age of 18 are put in one class/group by the Act to provide a separate scheme of investigation, trial and punishment for offences committed by them. A class of persons is sought to be created who are treated differently. This is being done to further/effectuate the views of the international community which India has shared by being a signatory to the several conventions and treaties already referred to”, the Court further added.