Background/ Overview –
- The genesis of this petition was two judgments given by the same Nagpur bench of Maharashtra High Court on the identical legal context where it interpreted the POCSO Act in such a manner that it defeated the intention behind the enactment of the said act.
- People were unhappy with the judgments and it triggered a discussion among the conscious citizens all across the country. Appeals were made in the Supreme Court against the judgment of the Nagpur Bench of Judicature of the High Court of Maharashtra. The Attorney General, National Commission for Women, The State of Maharashtra and the Accused filled several separate petitions and prayed to the apex court for remedy.
- The Supreme Court decided to club all the petitions together and adjudicated them as a single matter due to the similarity of the legal context.
- In Nagpur District, the mother being the informant accused that the accused –Satish who was their neighbor allured the victim a 12-year girl in the pretext of giving guava to his house and tried to touch the bosom of the girl and tries to remove the lower she was wearing. Upon coming of the said instance the informant registered a criminal complaint bearing the number 405/2016 at the nearby Police station. After investigation, this matter appeared in the court of The Extra Joint Additional Sessions Judge, Nagpur (hereinafter referred to as the Special Court). Upon thoroughly examining the pieces of evidence and circumstances of the cases the hon’ble court on 5th Feb 2020, held the accused guilty under sections 342, 354, and 363 of the Indian Penal Code along with section 8 of the POCSO Act. The Accused- Satish being unsatisfied with the conviction filled the appeal the criminal appeal no. 161/2020 in the High Court of Judicature at Nagpur Bench.
A case of similar nature appeared in the court of Additional Session Judge, Gadhchiroli. In this case, the mother the informant of the victim of a 5-year old girl in her criminal complaint she stated that she works as domestic help in other houses she works from 8.00 am to 4.00 pm. On 11th Dec 2018, she left for work leaving her two daughters at her home when she returned after the day’s work at 4.00 pm she saw that the accused Libinus Francis Mujur was holding the hand of her elder daughter victim and her pants were raised. The mother shouted at the accused and he ran away. After the commotion, the neighbors also gathered around the informant’s house. When the crowd inquired with the victim about the incident she said that the accused came to the house and said that he had come to meet his dad, when the victim told the accused that his father is not at the home, then the accused caught her hand and raised her frock with one hand and lowered her pants with the other after that he unzipped his pants and took out his genitals and showed it to the victim then he asked the victim to lie on the cot. After hearing the account of the victim, the mother and the neighbors started looking for the accused but he couldn’t be found. The informant then lodged a complained the criminal complaint against the accused bearing complaint no.63/2018. The Special POCSO court after going through the merit of the case held the accused guilty of offenses punishable under Section 448 and 354-A (1)(i) of IPC and Sections 8 and 10 read with section 9 (m) and 12 of the POCSO Act.
2. Being unsatisfied with the verdict of the respective session courts both the accused filled the appeal at the High Court of Judicature at the Nagpur Bench.
3. The same Nagpur bench of the Maharashtra High Court heard both appeals.
4. In the appeal of accused- Satish the High Court held him not guilty in the offenses attracting section 8 of the POCSO Act but held him guilty of the offenses under sections 342, 354, and 363 of IPC.
The Court gave the following reasons for the judgment –
“Evidently, it is not the case of the prosecution that the appellant removed her top and pressed her breast. The punishment provided for the offense of ‘sexual assault is imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than three years but which may extend to five years, and shall also be liable to fine. Considering the stringent nature of punishment provided for the offense, in the opinion of this Court, stricter proof and serious allegations are required. The act of pressing of breast of the child aged 12 years, in the absence of any specific details as to whether the top was removed or whether he inserted his hand inside the top and pressed her breast, would not fall in the definition of ‘sexual assault’. It would certainly fall within the definition of the offense under Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code.”
5. In the appeal of accused – Libinus the High Court had set aside the conviction under sections 8 and 10 of the POCSO Act whereas upholding the conviction under Sections 448 and 354-A(1)(i) of the IPC read with Section 12 of the POCSO Act citing the following reason –
“The appellant/accused is prosecuted for the charge of ‘aggravated sexual assault’. As per the definition of ‘sexual assault’ a ‘physical contact with sexual intent without penetration’ is the essential ingredient for the offence. The definition starts with the words – “whoever with sexual intent touches the vagina, penis, anus or breast of the child or makes the child touch the vagina, penis, anus or breast of such person or any other person or does any other act with ‘sexual intent…….’ The words ‘any other act’ encompasses within itself, the nature of the acts which are similar to the acts which have been specifically mentioned in the definition on the premise of the principle of ‘ejusdem generis’. The act should be of the same nature or closure to that. The acts of ‘holding the hands of the prosecutrix’ or ‘opened the zip of the pants has been allegedly witnessed by PW-1, in the opinion of this Court, do not fit in the ‘sexual assault’.”
Principles and Observations of the court –-
Justice S Ravindra. Bhatt in a separate judgment relied on the judgment of Reserve Bank of India v. Peerless General Finance and Investment Co. Ltd. & Ors to answer the question of interpretation of any Act/Law and said that the courts should contextualize the law which needed interpretation.
Justice Bela Trivedi wrote the judgment for the bench. The bench set aside the order of the High Court of Judicature at Nagpur and restored the order of the session court. The apex court ordered the accused to surrender before the concerned special courts within four weeks.
My Opinion – In my opinion, the verdict given by the Supreme Court is a landmark judgment. It rectified the damage the POCSO Act suffered due to the erroneous interpretation. This judgment once again stressed the fact that in case of requirement of the interpretation of Act the context in which the law was enacted should be kept in mind.
Judgment Citation –
CRIMINAL APPEAL NO. 1410 OF 2021 (@SPECIAL LEAVE PETITION (CRL) NO. 925 OF 2021)
ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR INDIA …. APPELLANT(S) Vs. SATISH AND ANOTHER …. RESPONDENT(S)
With CRIMINAL APPEAL NO.1411 OF 20 (@ SPECIAL LEAVE PETITION (CRL) NO. 1339 OF 2021)
NATIONAL COMMISSION FOR WOMEN …. APPELLANT Vs THE STATE OF MAHARASHTRA AND ANOTHER…. RESPONDENT(S)
With CRIMINAL APPEAL NO.1412 OF 2021 (@ SPECIAL LEAVE PETITION (CRL) NO. 1159 OF 2021)
THE STATE OF MAHARASHTRA …. APPELLANT(S) Vs. SATISH …. RESPONDENT(S) WITH
CRIMINAL APPEAL NO.1413 OF 2021 (@ SPECIAL LEAVE PETITION (CRL) NO. 5071 OF 2021)
THE STATE OF MAHARASHTRA …. APPELLANT(S) Vs. LIBNUS …. RESPONDENT(S) With
CRIMINAL APPEAL NO. 1414 OF 2021 (@ SPECIAL LEAVE PETITION (CRL) NO. 7472 OF 2021)
SATISH … APPELLANT(S) Vs THE STATE OF MAHARASHTRA …. RESPONDENT(S)
Judgment Date – November 18, 2021.
Judges /Bench – Ms. Bell M. Trivedi, Mr. S. Ravindra Bhat, Mr. Uday Umesh Lalit JJ.
Name of the writer – Rudrakant Chaubey
College – Sri Krishna Jubilee Law College.