The Supreme Court of India on Thursday held that an ossification test conducted on an accused at the age of 55 cannot solely be relied upon to determine his juvenility in the absence of reliable trustworthy medical evidence (Ram Vijay Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh).
The judgment was rendered by a Bench of Justices Rohinton Fali Nariman, Hemant Gupta and BR Gavai in an appeal by a murder convict challenging an April 2020 verdict of Allahabad High Court upholding his conviction.
The accused-appellant had argued that he was a juvenile as on July 20, 1982 when the offence in question was committed.
In support of plea of juvenility, the appellant had relied upon family register maintained by the Panchayat, Aadhaar Card and an order passed by the High Court in the year 1982.
The High Court had granted bail to the accused on the basis of the report of the Radiologist that the age of the appellant at that time of commission of offence was between 15½ – 17½ years.
The Supreme Court held that the medical report in support of the bail order was not available and that order granting bail cannot be conclusive determination of age of the appellant.
“It was an interim order of bail pending trial but in the absence of a medical report, it cannot be conclusively held that the appellant was juvenile on the date of the incident,” the Court said.
The Court noted that ossification test at the age of 18 can determine whether an accused was juvenile at the time of offence but when he is 50, ossification test cannot be relied upon.
“The First attempt to determine the age is by assessing the physical appearance of the person when brought before the Board or the Committee. It is only in case of doubt, the process of age determination by seeking evidence becomes necessary. At that stage, when a person is around 18 years of age, the ossification test can be said to be relevant for determining the approximate age of a person in conflict with law. However, when the person is around 40-55 years of age, the structure of bones cannot be helpful in determining the age,” the Supreme Court stated.
The Court went on to note that when the “ossification test cannot yield trustworthy and reliable results; such test cannot be made a basis to determine the age of the person concerned on the date of incident.”
It concluded that in the absence of any reliable trustworthy medical evidence to find out age of the appellant, the ossification test conducted in year 2020 when the appellant was 55 years of age cannot be conclusive to declare him a juvenile on the date of the incident.
The Court also noted that the accused in his application for gun license had stated his age to be December 30, 1961, which made him 21 years old on the date of the offence.
Further, the Court while dismissing the appeal also stated that merely because a prosecution witness was not believed in respect of another accused, the testimony of the said witness cannot be disregarded with respect to the present appellant.
“It is not necessary for the prosecution to examine all the witnesses who might have witnessed the occurrence. It is the quality of evidence which is relevant in criminal trial and not the quantity,” the apex court observed.