Monday 13 May 2024


  Section 15 of the Act enables the Board to make preliminary assessment into heinous offences where such an offence alleged to have been committed by a child between 16 and 18 years of age. The preliminary assessment is to be conducted with regard to his mental and physical capacity to commit such an offence, ability to understand the consequences of the offence and the circumstances in which the offence was allegedly committed. Proviso to the aforesaid Section provides that for making such an assessment the Board may take assistance of an experienced psychologist or psycho-social worker or other experts. Explanation thereto provides that the process of preliminary assessment is not a trial but merely to assess the capacity of such a child to commit and understand the consequences of the alleged offence. The importance of the assistance from the expert is even evident from Section 101(2) of the Act. While considering the appeal against an order passed Under Section 15, the appellate authority can also take assistance of experts other than those who assisted the Board. {Para 9}

9.2. Section 14(3) of the Act provides that the preliminary assessment in terms of Section 15 is to be completed by the Board within a period of three months from the date of first production of the child before the Board.

9.3. In case the Board after preliminary assessment Under Section 15 of the Act comes to a conclusion that the trial of the CCL is to be conducted as an adult, then the Board shall transfer the records to the Children's Court having jurisdiction. 9.4. The argument raised by learned Counsel for the Appellant was that the CCL was produced before the Board on 03.11.2021. The period of three months having expired on 02.02.2022, any order passed by the Board thereafter is non-est, and the trial of CCL cannot now be transferred to the Children's Court.
9.5. What we need to consider is as to whether the timeline for the conclusion of inquiry as envisaged Under Section 14 is mandatory or directory?

9.9. Meaning thereby that as far as inquiry of CCL, as envisaged Under Section 14(1) of the Act, by the Board for heinous offences is concerned, there is no deadline after which either the inquiry cannot be proceeded further or has to be terminated.

9.10. Now coming to the issue in hand. It is not in dispute that the CCL has allegedly committed a heinous offences. The argument is with reference to the period provided for the conclusion of preliminary assessment Under Section 15 of the Act and passing of an order Under Section 15(2) or 18(3) of the Act, namely as to whether the matter is to be enquired into by the Board or is to be transferred to the Children's Court for trial of the CCL as an adult.

9.12. The inquiry as envisaged in Section 15(1) of the Act enables the Board to take assistance from experienced psychologists or psycho- social workers or other experts. The proviso has nexus with the object sought to be achieved. The Act deals with the CCL. The preliminary assessment as envisaged in Section 15 has large ramifications, namely, as to whether inquiry against the CCL is to be conducted by the Board, where the final punishment, which could be inflicted is lighter or the trial is to be conducted by the Children's Court treating the CCL as an adult, where the punishment could be stringent.

9.13. As noticed earlier, the preliminary assessment into the heinous offence by the Board in terms of Section 15(1) of the Act has to be concluded within a period of three months in terms of Section 14(3) of the Act. The Act as such does not provide for any extension of time and also does not lay down the consequence of non-compilation of inquiry within the time permissible. In the absence thereof the provision prescribing time limit of completion of inquiry cannot be held to be mandatory. 

9.14. As in the process of preliminary inquiry there is involvement of many persons, namely, the investigating officer, the experts whose opinion is to be obtained, and thereafter the proceedings before the Board, where for different reasons any of the party may be able to delay the proceedings, in our opinion the time so provided in Section 14(3) cannot be held to be mandatory, as no consequences of failure have been provided as is there in case of enquiry into petty offences in terms of Section 14(4) of the Act. If we see the facts of the case in hand, the investigating officer had taken about two months' time in getting the report from the NIMHANS.

9.15. Where consequences for default for a prescribed period in a Statute are not mentioned, the same cannot be held to be mandatory. 

9.22. Hence, we are of the opinion that the time provided in Section 14(2) of the Act to conduct inquiry is not mandatory but directory. The time so provided in Section 14(3) can be extended by the Chief Judicial Magistrate or the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, as the case may be, for the reasons to be recorded in writing.
9.27. In our opinion, the guidance as is evident from Sub-section (4) of Section 14 of the Act enabling the Chief Judicial Magistrate or Chief Metropolitan Magistrate to extend the period of inquiry as envisaged Under Section 14(1), shall apply for extension of period as envisaged in Sub-section (3) also. Such an extension can be granted for a limited period for the reasons to be recorded in writing. While considering the prayer for extension of time, the delay in receipt of opinion of the experts shall be a relevant factor. This shall be in the spirit of the Act and giving the same a purposive meaning.

9.28. We approve the views expressed by the High Court of Madhya Pradesh in Bhola v. State of Madhya Pradesh   MANU/MP/0210/2019 and the High Court in Delhi in CCL v. State (NCT) of Delhi MANU/DE/5341/2023 : 2023:DHC:5661 who while dealing with the provisions of Section 14 of the Act have held that the time period prescribed for completion of the preliminary assessment is not mandatory but merely directory in nature. 

Criminal Appeal No. 2411 of 2024 (Arising out of Special Leave Petition (Crl.) No. 3033 of 2024)
Child in Conflict with Law through his Mother Vs. The State of Karnataka and Ors.
Hon'ble Judges/Coram:
C.T. Ravikumar and Rajesh Bindal, JJ.
Author: Rajesh Bindal, J.

Decided On: 07.05.2024.

Citation:  MANU/SC/0395/2024.
Read full Judgment here: Click here.
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