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NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court said a person accused of sexually assaulting a minor or a woman of unsound mind can be convicted without the rape survivor being cross-examined to corroborate her charges if other evidence was sufficient to prove guilt.
Sealing the escape route of predators who attempt to take advantage of inability of rape survivors, especially minor girls or women with unsound mind, to corroborate evidence during trial, the SC said mere non-examination of such victims during trial was no ground for acquittal of accused. It set aside acquittal of a man and sentenced him to seven years’ imprisonment for raping a mentally challenged deaf and dumb minor girl near Nagpur in 2008.
A bench of Justices A K Goel and U U Lalit quashed an order of the Bombay High Court, which had acquitted the accused because of non-examination of the rape survivor by the trial court. The trial court had relied on other corroborative evidence to convict the man as the rape survivor was incapable of facing cross-examination because of her mental and physical deficiencies.
The HC had held “since the victim herself was not examined, the factum of rape and involvement of the accused could not be held to have been proved” and set aside his conviction and sentence awarded by the trial court. The accused had sexually assaulted the mentally challenged minor girl after luring her to a secluded place by offering sweets.
Quashing the HC verdict, the SC bench said there was sufficient evidence against the accused to convict him and he could not be acquitted just because the rape survivor was not examined. “The evidence of the mother of the victim clearly shows that it was the respondent-accused who took away the victim. The victim and the accused were seen together on the date of commission of offence. The victim immediately after the occurrence narrated the same to her mother as to what happened as reflected in the FIR and the version of the mother. Rape has been confirmed by medical evidence. Identity of accused is not in dispute. In these circumstances, the trial court having convicted the respondent, the high court was not justified in setting aside the conviction,” it said.
The SC verdict would lay down the guidelines for trial courts and the HCs on the procedure to be adopted while handling criminal cases where the victim is unable to depose and corroborate before the trial judge her ordeal during the sexual assault by the accused.
Importantly, the SC also directed all HCs to set up special centres in each district to create appropriate infrastructure and atmosphere for examination of vulnerable witnesses in criminal cases. It said such centres would encourage victims to come forward and depose fearlessly. It directed the HCs to adopt the guidelines framed by Delhi High Court on recording of statement such witnesses.
“We are of the view that all high courts can adopt such guidelines if the same have not yet been adopted with such modifications as may be deemed necessary. Setting up of one centre for vulnerable witnesses may be perhaps required almost in every district in the country. All the high courts may take appropriate steps in this direction in due course in phases. At least two such centres in the jurisdiction of each high court may be set up within three months from today,” the bench said.
The apex court had in 2004 also issued guidelines on holding trial in child sex abuse and rape cases. It had directed that arrangements be made in trial courts to ensure that victims or witnesses do no see the body or face of the accused and the question to be put in cross-examination to the victim should be given in writing.