Criminal Appeal No. 329/2021
2021 SCC OnLine SC 230
- Justice S Ravindra Bhat
- Justice AM Khanwilkar
March 18, 2021
- Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860
- Section 506 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860
Brief Facts & Procedural History
The petition was filed by Advocate Aparna Bhat and eight other lawyers in response to an unjustified order issued by the Madhya Pradesh High Court on July 30, in which the accused of sexual assault was ordered to visit the victim’s home on the occasion of Raksha Bandhan with Rakhi and be tied by her as a condition of bail. The accused, who is a neighbour of the complainant Sarda Bai, entered her house on April 20, 2020, and attempted to sexually harass her, prompting the filing of (hereafter referred to as IPC). After the case was investigated, a charge sheet was filed. Under section 438 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the accused filed an application for anticipatory bail (hereafter referred to as Cr.P.C.) The accused was granted bail by the Madhya Pradesh High Court on the affliction that he and his wife visit Sarda Bai’s house on the occasion of Raksha Bandhan on August 3, 2020, with a package of sweets and ask her to tie the Rakhi to him with the pledge that he will protect her to the best of his ability in the future. The accused was also directed to hand up Rs. 11,000 as a gesture of gift given by brothers to their sisters as part of the customary Raksha Bandhan rites, which the petitioners have challenged before the Hon’ble Supreme Court.
The petitioner filed a writ plea in the Supreme Court of India against the Madhya Pradesh High Court’s order. The following prayers were included in the petition:
- The Supreme Court directed the High Courts and trial courts not to make such observations in situations of rape and sexual assault which would trivialize the anguish endured by the victim and impair their dignity.
- The courts should not aim at compromises such as encouraging marriage between the accused and the prosecutrix and it should not be considered a judicial remedy. Compromises like this go against a woman’s honour and dignity. The petitioner cited the case of State of Madhya Pradesh v. Madanlal1 in support of his claim.
- The appellants further urged that no judge make any remarks or observations in the ruling that would reflect their prejudices and harm the woman’s dignity.
- In circumstances of sexual assault, no such restriction should be imposed that permits the applicant to see the complainant or her family members. The court was requested to provide gender sensitization directives for the bar and bench, as well as law students.
- Also, under Sections 437 and 438 of the Cr. P.C, the court was asked to set instructions on legally feasible bail terms.
Issues before the Court
- Can a compromise be struck between the accused and the victim in such instances?
- Is it acceptable for courts to issue such orders, and if so, what effect will such judgments have on society?
- Do such directions constitute to conduct of the trial in an unfair manner?
- Can the accused be permitted to meet the survivor or any of the members of her family?
- What, most importantly, should be the guidelines that courts should follow when granting bail and anticipatory bail?
Decision of the Court
In rape and sexual assault cases, the court clarified that no compromise can be made or even considered under any circumstances because it would be against her honour. Courts and other law enforcement authorities are intended to be neutral agencies and are tasked to guarantee the fair conduct of the trial by preserving impartiality and neutrality. And such techniques in rape and sexual assault trials would shatter rape survivors’ faith in the court’s impartiality. The court also noted that women’s status and society’s attitude toward them are both poor, and they suffer greatly. They are already experiencing numerous problems in their life for being a woman in our culture.
Judgements set precedents that the entire society adopts at different stages: By judicial decree, orders such as tying Rakhi on the accused’s wrist transform the molesters into brothers, reducing and degrading the charge of sexual harassment. Therefore, the use of reasoning/language which lessens the offence and seeks to belittle the victim is notably to be avoided under all circumstances. The law does not allow or condone such behaviour, in which the survivor may be traumatized several times or forced into some form of non-voluntary acceptance, or be pushed by circumstances to accept and condone behaviour that is a major violation.
The petitioners urged that the High Court’s decision should be overturned. The petitioners argued that Sections 437 (3)(c) and 438(2)(iv) of the CrPC permit courts to impose whatever condition they see proper in the public interest, but that the conditions must be consistent with the other provisions. When considering cases of rape and sexual assault, the court in Ramphal v. State of Haryana2 concluded that compromise is irrelevant. The petitioner also requested that no judgement or order be passed by the court that could affect the dignity of women or the fair and unbiased conduct of trials, citing several cases where the apex court has rejected the idea of compromise on the grounds that it is antithetical to the woman’s honour and dignity and that it disparages and downgrades otherwise heinous crimes, implying that such offences are remediable by the judicial system.
The intervenors’ counsel argued that the court had the competence to impose sanctions under Sections 437(2) and 438. Requirements come in a broad variety of forms, and the court cited a number of cases in which judges imposed specific conditions for granting bail.
In its order, the Supreme Court framed various guidelines. These are as follows:
- Contact between the accused and the complainant should never be allowed as a condition of bail, and if bail is granted, the complainant should be informed as soon as possible, along with a copy of the bail order being delivered to her within two days.
- Bail conditions must precisely adhere to the stipulations of the Cr.P.C., and the order shall not represent patriarchal attitudes toward women.
- Any offer to the accused and victim for a compromise, such as getting married or mandating mediation, should be ignored since it is outside the court’s authority.
- The court has ordered a module as part of every judge’s basic training to ensure that judges are sensitive while considering cases involving sexual offenses and to minimize ingrained societal bias and sexism.
- The National Judicial Academy has also been urged to integrate gender sanitization as soon as feasible in the training of young judges.
- Similarly, the Bar Council of India has been mandated to incorporate gender sanitization in the LL.B. curriculum and as a mandatory topic in the All-India Bar Exam syllabus.
The Supreme Court commended the petitioner for his insightful ideas and overturned the Madhya Pradesh High Court’s bail terms. The court has established certain criteria in this regard. It also agreed to the recommendations for a gender sensitization curriculum in law schools, as well as for the bar exam and introduction training for newly appointed judges.
The victims of sexual abuse have always been blamed on Indian society. Women have been questioned repeatedly about their behavior, clothing choices, attitude, and when they plan to leave their homes. During trials, judges have frequently reinforced this practice by questioning the victim and making remarks that stereotype particular behaviors and threaten to disrupt the trial. With the Supreme Court openly criticizing such behavior on the part of the courts, hope for judicial reform has been reignited. Gender sensitization seminars will also aid in raising awareness of the issue among legal professionals.
By delivering this order, the Supreme Court has established a significant precedent for courts to follow in dealing with sexual assault victims in the future. Discussing the faults of a patriarchal culture has set an example for its enormous audience. This will go down in history as a significant step toward women’s independence. It is hoped that if the standards are followed, we will not see such arbitrary conditions in judicial orders in the future.
Almost certainly that judges assume the most essential part as the educator, as the defender, and as the watchman, and anything they say turns into the points of reference that is then trailed by lower courts in their decisions, and consequently it turns out to be vital for the judges to take the most extensive level of care while offering any expression which influences the actual premise of legal executive and confidence of individuals. In cases connected with the assemblage of ladies and particularly in sexual offenses cases, even little mistakes either as a judgment or any assertion made by courts might prompt genuine offense against the survivors. There have been different examples of orientation related cases as of late when courts have believed the victim to make split the difference by permitting the accused to marry her or as in the present case by requesting him to get Rakhi tied on his wrist by the victim or by making some other split the difference as the court might coordinate. Such translations are horrendous in nature and show the quality of judges towards the ladies yet as it is said Judiciary is a self-recuperating process, present judgment by Supreme Court validated the explanation. Outlining the guidelines for orientation sterilization and adding it to the curriculum of LLB will assist the legal advisors with instilling the impartial and nonpartisan quality towards the ladies which will most likely assist the victims in fair direct preliminary with practically no dread on their part.
Intentional or otherwise, such comments by trial courts and high courts should be avoided at all costs. Judicial stereotyping is another term for this. When judges attach specific attributes to someone based on their gender, religion, caste, or race, this is known as judicial stereotyping. Judges often reinforce hazardous prejudices as a result of this, rather than questioning them as they are intended to. Because of the vast audience that court declarations serve; such remarks can have a greater social impact. Stereotyping also has the potential to undermine the judge’s impartiality, obstructing a fair trial. Creating rape myths or an idealized picture of a sexual assault victim also undermines the incident’s credibility and the harm suffered by survivors of sexual assault who do not fit the public image of a chaste lady.
Women are underrepresented in the legal profession, and women lawyers frequently experience discrimination and discriminatory remarks. As a result, in order to assure gender-biased-free judgments, the first step should be to create an equal environment within the institution and raise awareness about the issue. The answer to these ills comes from public discourse and keeping organizations with the potential to make a difference responsible. Such sexist judgments should be condemned and held up as an example of what is not acceptable behavior.
- (2015) 7 SCC 681
- 2019 SC 1716
This case analysis is done by Arryan Mohanty, a 2nd Year Student student of Symbiosis Law School.