The Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR) has ordered a formal inquiry into the quality and effectiveness of legal services available to children in conflict with the law, their experiences with police, and challenges faced by them in securing bail or release. A panel has been constituted by DCPCR in this regard headed by former Supreme Court judge Madan B Lokur with three DCPCR members—Suneita Ojha, Sneha Singh and Ajay Verma.
The order, dated January 3, 2022, states that “The Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights in discharge of its functions under Section 13 (1-e), Section 13(1-i) and Section 13 (1-j) of the Commissions for Protection of Child Rights Act 2005 and in exercise of its power under Section 14 (1) of the Commissions for Protection of Child Rights Act 2005 initiates an inquiry through the order dated January 03, 2022.” The order states that the panel shall look into following matters:
- Assessment of awareness of the legal proceedings and status of their cases/ inquiry among children alleged to be in conflict with the law and children in conflict with the law who are residing in various observation homes, place of safety and special homes, situated in the National Capital Territory of Delhi and duration of their stay in these institutions along with the reasons thereof;
- Identification of issues and challenges experienced by such children in securing bail or release (where applicable) and in securing leave, quality and effectiveness of legal services available to them and their experiences with the police;
- Demographic profile involving social, economic and educational status of the family of such children;
- Any other matter connected incidental to either or all of the above three.
The DCPCR also said that for matters of inquiry, members of the inquiry panel, individually or collectively, are authorised to:
(a) Visit the observation homes, special homes and place of safety with at least one day prior intimation, through the secretariat of this commission to the persons in-charge of concerned child care institutions;
(b) Interact with and interview children without the presence of any staff and have access to their records (case files, reports, orders, etc.) available in the institution;
(c) Interact with persons in-charge and other officials of observation homes, special homes and place of safety, as the case may be, to obtain facts and information relevant for the purpose of inquiry;
(d) Visit and interact with the legal services advocates and family members of these children, if required for the purpose of inquiry;
(e) Inspect legal aid register, warrant files and any other documents or registers which are maintained at the institution;
(f) Photocopy or take pictures of any document through their mobile phones required for the purpose of inquiry;
(g) Any other document incidental to the work of the inquiry panel.
According to the order, the members of the inquiry panel shall file a confidentiality undertaking with DCPCR to ensure complete privacy of the children and the records and information accessed as part of the inquiry. The panel shall submit its report to DCPCR and shall undertake not to reveal or share the report, any part thereof or findings of the inquiry, to any entity or entities without the written permission of DCPCR.
Also Read: Pregnant Pause
The members of the inquiry panel shall submit their request for access to records maintained outside observation homes, special homes and place of safety to DCPCR only, which shall provide full secretarial assistance to the members of the inquiry panel, who shall reach out to DCPCR through an official designated for this purpose, in case of need of such assistance at any time and stage of the inquiry.
The order states that the members of the inquiry panel shall comply with the institution’s child protection policy, sign the visitors’ register, show their ID cards and this order as and when required by the institution. The institution may retain the copy of their identity documents, if it so wishes for its record purposes. All the persons in-charge and all other officials, including security staff, of the observation homes, special homes and place of safety are required to ensure and extend professional courtesy and cooperation to the members of the inquiry panel. The members of inquiry panel shall write a joint report based on their inquiry within five weeks of the issuance of the order.
Experts said that the inquiry could lead to a better understanding of the challenges faced by families and children. They opine that one can put in place lawyers to take up cases of children in conflict with the law, but at the same time, it is crucial to ensure that services required under the law are provided to families of such children. Bharti Ali, director, HAQ: Centre for Child Rights—a child rights NGO—said that legal aid for children requires that lawyers stay in regular touch with children, keep families updated about the developments in the case, and ensure that the child is not forced to plead guilty.
Ali said that an inquiry into the way the legal aid system works is happening for the first time. The findings of the inquiry can be used for strengthening the legal aid system. Ali further said that she hopes the inquiry and its findings will go a long way to provide proper legal aid to the children in conflict with the law, the lack of which is currently one of the major problems in the juvenile justice system. She also said that it is not so much that public defenders are not available for such children but there is currently no system to monitor the quality of services they provide. She added that many times children are not assigned legal aid for days on end when the police delay production before the Juvenile Justice Board, adding that another problem is that these children and their families are often unable to find the money to pay the bail bond and sureties.
Senior Advocate Vrinda Grover said that while the Juvenile Justice Act is a beneficial law designed to make sure that authorities act in the best interest of the child concerned, “the entire scheme stands nullified if those responsible under the law fail to strictly adhere to it, out of ignorance or indifference, jeopardising the fate of the child in conflict with the law”. Grover said that the panel can provide an important evaluation of the implementation of the law and bring to the fore the lacunae and shortfall that need urgent redress. “I welcome this panel as an important step in the direction of regular monitoring and evaluation of the enforcement of the law and state’s obligation towards safeguarding children in conflict with the law who are residing in observation homes, place of safety and special homes situated in the National capital Territory of Delhi and duration of their stay in these institutions along with the reason,” she said.
—By Adarsh Patel and India Legal Bureau