Sweeping assumptions over delays in lodging FIRs for sexual offences send a problematic signal to society and create opportunities for abuse by miscreants, the Supreme Court said on Tuesday while acquitting a woman in a 24 year old sexual offence case.
The woman was convicted under section 366A (inducing a minor girl with intent that she will be forced or seduced to illicit intercourse with another person) and sentenced to 3-year imprisonment in a case registered in 1996.
The woman, who was on bail, denied any wrong doing and said that she was falsely implicated in the case by the prosecutrix and her family. In her 2011 appeal in the top court against the high order, she said the complaint was nothing but a motivated revenge at the instance of a person against whom she had levelled allegations of rape a few months earlier.
A bench of Justices NV Ramana, Surya Kant and Krishna Murari acquitted the woman after finding gross mis-appreciation of testimonies and shoddy investigation done by police and inconsistencies in the analysis done by the trial court and the High Court upholding it. We are thus of the considered view that the prosecution has failed to discharge its burden of proving the guilt of the appellant under Section 366A and 506 of the IPC beyond reasonable doubt.
"Thus, for the reasons, the appeal is allowed and the conviction and sentence awarded by the Courts below are set aside. The appellant is acquitted and consequently set free, the bench said. Advocate Dushyant Parashar, appearing for the woman, said there were material contradictions in the testimonies of star witnesses, five-day delay in registration of the FIR.
He said there was lack of any attempt to catch or even later trace the male tenant with whom the prosecutrix was allegedly locked by the woman, showed that the story was concocted by the prosecutrix's family with ulterior motives. Dealing with the case, the bench said the 5-day delay in registration of the FIR, in the facts and circumstances of this case, gains importance as the father of the victim is an eyewitness to a part of the occurrence.
It is difficult to appreciate that a father waited for a second such incident of alleged threat to his daughter by the accused before moving the law into motion, the bench said. According to the prosecution, the woman was single and living with her mother and a child about a week prior to registration of the police complaint. She had called the prosecutrix to her house and tried to entice her to indulge in illicit intercourse with her rich tenant boy in return for clothes and trips.
The FIR claimed that the woman at about 6 am on February 19, 1996, allegedly pushed the visiting prosecutrix into the room occupied by the tenant boy and bolted it from outside. It was only on hearing the prosecutrix's screams the door was unlocked by her father and others and the boy escaped, the FIR said.
The top court said that the courts ignored many aspects or only dealt with them hastily. "It is indisputable that parents would not ordinarily endanger the reputation of their minor daughter merely to falsely implicate their opponents, but such clichés ought not to be the sole basis of dismissing reasonable doubts created and/or defences set out by the accused," the bench said.
It said that similar to the trial Court, the high court also explained away the delay in registration of FIR as a result of family reputation put at stake in matters of sexual offence cases. "Sweeping assumptions concerning delays in registration of FIRs for sexual offences send a problematic signal to society and create opportunities for abuse by miscreants.
"Instead, the facts of each individual case and the behaviour of the parties involved ought to be analysed by courts before reaching a conclusion on the reason and effect of delay in registration of FIR, the bench said. The top court said that ordinarily, the Supreme Court ought not to re-appreciate evidence.
However, where the courts below have dealt with the material-on-record in a cavalier or mechanical manner which is likely to cause gross injustice, then this Court in such exceptional circumstances may justifiably reappraise the evidence to advance the cause of justice, the bench said. It said that there is no gainsaying that such reassessment ought not to take place routinely and ought not to become substitution of an otherwise plausible view taken by the Courts below.
The bench said that the trial Court has summarily disregarded the contradictions highlighted by the defense side, on the premise that such contradictions had no material bearing and that there was no reason to disbelieve the prosecutrix. It said that even the Punjab and Haryana High Court too has opined that the prosecutrix and her father have completely corroborated each other and their testimonies were impeccable.
These reasons, in our considered opinion, are not only contrary to the record but they also lead to an impermissible reversal of the burden of proof imposed in criminal trials. There are numerous clear contradictions between the testimonies of these two star witnesses, which we find fatal to the prosecution case, the bench said.