Separate trial system for juveniles
Oli Md. Abdullah Chowdhury
Before separation of judiciary from executive, magistrates dealing with juvenile justice used to make mistakes while trying juveniles coming in contact with law. Since they mostly did not have a legal background, separate trial system for juveniles was almost unknown to them. When the judiciary was finally separated in 2007 as directed in the Article 22 of the constitution, administration of juvenile justice improved slightly. A separate trial system for juveniles is still to become a reality.
National Taskforce (NTF) on children in conflict with the law demonstrated commendable progress in ensuring release of children from jail. NTF also contributed in developing a coordination mechanism among different stakeholders at the district level through district task force (DTF). With the separation of judiciary from executive, the role of DTF has become shrunk. Still, members of the DTF monitor status of children in jail and guide jail authorities regarding cases against juveniles.
Previously, magistrates from the administrative service had the authority to grant bail for juveniles accused of delinquency. As the Deputy Commissioner (DC) is the chair of DTF, it has been quite easy to facilitate release of children from jail through the responsible magistrates working under DC. Largely due to activation of DTF, it has been possible to ensure release of significant children from jail.
However, judicial magistrates have now been performing the duty of judge in the juvenile courts since 2007. Magistrates from administrative service are no longer responsible for juvenile court as judiciary was finally separated from executive. Since magistrates from judicial service are not represented in the DTF, release of children from prison is sometimes delayed due to lack of coordination.
Problem remains in other areas of juvenile justice administration as well. Even if children get released from police station or court, they are often tried along with adult offenders. Mixing with adult offenders has an adverse effect on juveniles. Although there is specific instruction for separate trial in the Children Act 1974, children are hardly separated from adult offenders during trial period.
It has been stated in Article 109 of the constitution, “The High Court shall have superintendence and control over all court and tribunals subordinate to it”. Therefore, the High Court should montior subordinate courts while judicial magistrates try juveniles.
Juveniles coming in conflict with law often face financial difficulty. Coordination between DTF and Legal Aid Committee would help juveniles from disadvantaged households getting access to justice. Children from extreme poor households mostly come in contact with law and their parents seldom have the capacity to meet the costs associated with a judicial process. On the other hand, legal aid fund is under-used in many districts. If the cost associated with law suit of the juveniles is funded from the legal aid fund, trial process would be speedier.
Scope of probation needs to be broadened. Probation officers are employed by DSS and they are often burdened with multiple tasks. Due to absence of adequate fund, they often face difficulties in facilitating rehabilitation process of juveniles having conflict with law. If there are specific allocations in the national budget for the purpose of rehabilitation of the juveniles, probation officers would be able to commit necessary resources. If there is a gap in provision, juveniles become more prone to delinquency once they come in contact with law.
To conclude, reforming taskforces at different levels has become essential in the new context. Inclusion of judicial services in the taskforce would pave the way of establishing separate justice system for children. Apparently the number of children staying in jails though dropped, children in growing numbers are still coming in conflict with law. As the risk remains high, commitment of the defenders must sustain.
Oli Md. Abdullah Chowdhury is a human rights worker and currently working for FIVDB.