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Rethinking Reliability of Social Investigation Reports in Cases of Juvenile Delinquency

By Sarah Azad, 1st Year, B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) student at NMIMS School of Law, Bangalore

INTRODUCTION

The rate of violent crimes committed by youngsters under the age of 16 has risen in recent years. The incident of the "Nirbhaya Delhi Gang Rape Case", which occurred on December 16, 2012, has shaken not just Indiarather the entire world. In that case, also the crucial point was the participation of the defendant, who was only six months away from turning 18 years old. Statistics show that juvenile crimes are increasing at alarming rates. According to 2017 data produced by the National Crime Records Bureau, over 40,000 juveniles are caught per day, the majority of them are in the 16-18 age group. However, recently, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has ruled in Vishwas Bhandari vs The State Of Punjab that the judgment to issue or deny bail to juveniles delinquents should depend on the results of a social investigation. Against this backdrop, the present piece of writing is an analysing of the merits and issues with the social investigation reports that are used to decide whether or not to grant bail to juvenile offenders and provide suggestions for their effective usage as well.


WHAT IS A SOCIAL INVESTIGATION REPORT?

Everything an individual indulges in has a basis in a series of circumstances that led him to do what he did. The focus of the social investigation report is to identify and understand the circumstances of the child in question, and what may have led to the alleged crime. Social Investigation Reports (SIR) come into the picture in "Section 12 of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2000" which talks about bail granting systems in a juvenile delinquency case. The social inquiry and report are still regarded as a sine qua non[1]in deciding juvenile cases.


BACKGROUND

Despite any earlier specific record, the Social Investigation report was first used in Rural England in the 1870s. The first-ever juvenile court was set up in Calcutta in 1914 and since then there is no going back. The Juvenile Justice Act was introduced in the year 2000 and that is where the use of social investigation reports under Section 12 of the Act began. The court's use of social investigations findings in resolution judgments and, in certain situations, adjudicated proceedings is a distinctive input that has resulted from such a socio-legal unity. The utilisation of SIR to identify the requirements of each particular child has been envisioned as the mainspring of a juvenile process ever since initial periods of courts determining juvenile cases.


COMPONENTS OF A SOCIAL INVESTIGATION REPORT

The SIR has details regarding children who conflict with law related to their upbringing, circumstances and physical, economic and social surroundings.

Ordinarily, the report is divided into three main parts the first part deals with information related to the child's family background and his/her relations with parents, relatives, peers and teachers. The second part entails details regarding the child's physical and mental health and conditions, interests, habits, personality and behavioural traits. The third part is where the Probation Officer analyses the circumstances of the child and related it to the present act of delinquency thus establishing a link between the two.


RELATED CASE LAWS

In Sonu (Minor)VsState of UP[2], the Appellate Court examined the social investigations document and concluded that the revisionist should not be granted bail, but the High Court of Allahabad was in plain disagreement with the interpretation of the social investigation report to reach this conclusion. In Dharmrajvsthe State of UP[3], where Dharamraj was accused of threatening a girl for marrying her by force, the court had held based on the social investigation report, that releasing him will expose him to psychological and moral dangers. It will also be concluded through the report that he is likely to come in close contact with other criminals and that his release's purpose would stand of no use. In Vishnuvsthe State of Haryana[4]the child who conflicts with the law is also the petitioner and relied on VishwasBhandarivsThe State Of Punjab[5]and contended that the courts in his case didn't consider social investigation reports. The court considered this and went ahead with evaluating his social investigation report which concluded that his relations with his parents and peer were cordial, and was a normal child and committed the alleged crime under the influence of peer group pressures.


MERITS OF SOCIAL INVESTIGATION REPORTS

When it comes to the use of social investigation reports in adjudication, the reasons for conducting a social investigation upon submitting a petition and for the judge consulting the report before adjudication are based on sociological issues rather than law protecting individual rights. The fundamental point is that the material in the social report adds greatly to the judge's comprehension of the juvenile's overall personality and specific needs—information that might not be easily available during the hearing. The report allows the judge to evaluate whether it is appropriate to keep a child detained until the hearing. Other arguments in favour of the procedure include the fact that it sometimes removes the need for the child to appear in court, protects parents from losing money, and, in general, best serves the child's and state's interests.[6]


CHALLENGES WITH APPLICATION OF SOCIAL INVESTIGATION REPORTS

A lot of things can be blamed for the intense debate this topic has sparked. Firstly, the tension among individuals that see the juvenile court as just an authoritative legalistic institution and others who see it as a liberal societal kind of organisation is exemplified by the issue of correct utilization of such findings. Secondly, because it is simultaneously an authorized judicial document and a medical systematic review, the document raises unique challenges. Privacy and disclosure is an issue[7]. Thirdly, the document often includes material that could be a significant cause of prejudice for the youngster and his family. Other institutions' interests in using such data, such as governmental organizations as well as private clinics, and the juvenile court's interests in protecting the child's anonymity, occasionally collide. Information that is presented at the court through a social investigation report cannot be trusted upon in its entirety since it is coloured with biases and subjective interpretations of those involved in giving out information about the child often creep in.

Evidence that has not been exposed to the legal standards offered by evidentiary safeguards should not be used in a delinquency determination. Most of the juvenile's social background is dependent on information gathered from neighbours that may have an antagonistic or unfavourable mindset toward the youngster and who are more likely to make a prejudiced and misleading remark than to appear in court under oath. Furthermore, due to the large caseload and limited amount of time for full research, the report may appear to contain inaccuracies, bias, cursory assessment, and rank hearsay.[8]


ENVISAGING AN APPROPRIATE ADMINISTRATION OF SOCIAL INVESTIGATION REPORTS

In the light of the above-mentioned arguments it can be concluded, that while tackling the issue of juvenile delinquency is the urgent need of the hour, so is the proper administration of tools and mechanisms put in place in the juvenile justice system. One such tool is the social investigation report. While social investigation reports serve a considerably great purpose in deciding the bail appeals, it has certain problem areas that we possibly cannot shut our eyes to.

A suggestive series of reforms could be that in cases apart from a judicial matter, caution should be exercised to avoid disclosing the information to people or entities who are not committed to the child's safety. Although no law can completely abolish the prospect of mismanagement, formal behaviour that may result in child stigmatisation can be efficiently prevented by enacting particular and indisputable regulations that plausibly consider the genuine preferences of people and departments dealing with the children's wellbeing. It must be assured that certain documents or data are not publicised or utilised for any reason except those for which they were acquired. Since the social investigation reports are inclined towards subjective bearings, its use could be minimised or be limited to circumstance specific cases- where the need be and not be blindly invoked in all juvenile delinquency cases. A well-postulated system of juvenile justice with all its mechanisms placed right as per ideals of law would take us forward on the path of growth in the child rights arena.


References

[1]Without which, not – something of absolute necessary [2]Criminal Appeal No. 1775 of 2013 | 05-02-201 [3]CRIMINAL REVISION No. - 1857 of 2017 [4]CRR-233 of 2021 (O & M) [5]CRIMINAL APPEAL NO. 105 OF 2021 [6]Teitelbaum, L., 1967. The Use of Social Reports in Juvenile Court Adjudications. J. Fam. L., 7, p.425. [7][7]Columbia Law Review, 1958. Employment of Social Investigation Reports in Criminal and Juvenile Proceedings. 58(5), p.702. [8]Xiong, Y.A.N.G., 2008. On the System of Social Investigation in Juvenile Proceedings [J].In Legal Forum (Vol. 1).


(Disclaimer- The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Child Rights Centre.)

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