The five adult suspects arrive in court for hearing
The five adult suspects arrived at court yesterday (Reuters) Reuters

The juvenile suspect in the New Delhi gang rape case may be spared an adult trial even if results from a bone test show he is over 18.

The sixth defendant accused of raping and murdering a 23-year-old student on a private bus in Delhi will be tried in a juvenile court as his school leaving certificate says he is 17. Police ordered a bone test to determine his age as the certificate could not be verified.

It had been reported that the juvenile was the most brutal of all of the gang. According to police, he ripped out the victim's intestines with his bare hands.

If tried and found guilty in a juvenile court, the maximum sentence he can receive is three years.

However, even if the bone test proves he is over 18, it is unlikely to mean he will face an adult trial as India's Juvenile Justice Act mean the test result cannot take precedence over documentary evidence - the school leaving certificate. The bone density test cannot accurately pinpoint his date of birth.

Medical tests 'casual'

Sudhanshu Ranjan, author of Justice, Judocracy and Democracy in India, told the Times of India: "The reasoning was that the medical test is not foolproof and there is a possibility of variation of two years above or below the real age.

"So documentary evidence is to be relied upon unless it is shown to be forged."

Raj Mangal Prasad, former chairman of the Delhi Child Welfare Committee [CWC], confirmed that in most cases documentary evidence is accepted by the Juvenile Justice Board [JJB] unless forgery is suspected.

"In my years in CWC I also found that medical tests were done casually. JJB is given enormous discretionary powers. They can even reduce the age of the juvenile keeping in mind the evidence before them," he said.

The age at which a juvenile is defined in India was raised from 16 to 18 in 2000 under the Juvenile Justice Act to protect children from gangs.

Following the death of the medical student rape victim, calls have been made by many - including the victim's father - to lower the age.

The trial of the five adult suspects began yesterday. The court was closed to the media and the public to protect the accused. If found guilty, they face the death penalty.