October 2, 2022

How evidence in Rape cases should be evaluated?- Supreme Court Guidelines

Rape is not merely a physical assault - it is often destructive of the whole personality of the victim. A murderer destroys the physical body of his victim, a rapist degrades the very soul of the helpless female.

OF late, crime against women in general and rape in particular is on the increase. It is an irony that while we are celebrating women’s rights in all spheres, we show little or no concern for her honour. It is a sad reflection on the attitude of indifference of the society towards the violation of human dignity of the victims of sex crimes. We must remember that a rapist not only violates the victim’s privacy and personal integrity, but inevitably causes serious psychological as well as physical harm in the process. Rape is not merely a physical assault – it is often destructive of the whole personality of the victim. A murderer destroys the physical body of his victim, a rapist degrades the very soul of the helpless female.

Indian Penal Code in its Chapter XVI from section 375 to 376 provides the definition of Rape and gang rape and punishment for such cases. But, a rapist or rapists may be punished if evidence in such cases are put strongly and with the exemptions of some liabilities on prosecution and victim.

In the case of The State of Punjab vs Gurmit Singh & Ors, Supreme Court of India discussed and explained different aspects of evidence in rape cases. The judgement may be analysed as follows-

Court’s Duty While appreciating the evidence in Rape Cases

The courts must, while evaluating evidence, remain alive to the fact that in a case of rape, no self-respecting woman would come forward in a court just to make a humiliating statement against her honour such as is involved in the commission of rape on her.

In cases involving sexual molestation, supposed considerations which have no material effect on the veracity of the prosecution case or even discrepancies in the statement of the prosecutrix should not, unless the discrepancies are such which are of fatal nature, be allowed to throw out an otherwise reliable prosecution case.

The inherent bashfulness of the females and the tendency to conceal outrage of sexual aggression are factors which the Courts should not over-look.

Testimony of the Rape Victim

The testimony of the victim in such cases is vital and unless there are compelling reasons which necessitate looking for corroboration of her statement, the courts should find no difficulty to act on the testimony of a victim of sexual assault alone to convict an accused where her testimony inspires confidence and is found to be reliable.

Seeking corroboration of her statement before relying upon the same, as a rule, in such cases amounts to adding insult to injury.

Is corroboration compulsory in rape cases?

The Court while appreciating the evidence of a prosecutrix may look for some assurance of her statement to satisfy its judicial conscience, since she is a witness who is interested in the outcome of the charge levelled by her, but there is no requirement of law to insist upon corroboration of her statement to base conviction of an accused.

Corroboration as a condition for judicial reliance on the testimony of the prosecutrix is not a requirement of law but a guidance of prudence under given circumstances.

Testimony of Rape victim equal to Injured Witness

The evidence of a victim of sexual assault stands almost at par with the evidence of an injured witness and to an extent is even more reliable. Just as a witness who has sustained some injury in the occurrence, which is not found to be self-inflicted, is considered to be a good witness in the sense that he is least likely to shield the real culprit, the evidence of a victim of a sexual offence is entitled to great weight, absence of corroboration notwithstanding. Courts cannot cling to a fossil formula and insist upon corroboration.

Rape Victim is not accomplice

It must not be over-looked that a woman or a girl subjected to sexual assault is not an accomplice to the crime but is a victim of another persons’s lust and it is improper and undesirable to test her evidence with a certain amount of suspicion, treating her as if she were an accomplice.

 Inferences have to be drawn from a given set of facts and circumstances with realistic diversity and not dead uniformity lest that type of rigidity in the shape of rule of law is introduced through a new form of testimonial tyranny making justice a casualty.

In State of Maharashtra Vs. Chandraprakash Kewalchand[1]Ahmadi, J. (as the Lord Chief Justice then was) speaking for the Bench summarised the position in the following words:

 “A prosecutrix of a sex offence cannot be put on par with an accomplice. She is in fact a victim of the crime. The Evidence Act nowhere says that her evidence cannot be accepted unless it is corroborated in material particulars. She is undoubtedly a competent witness under Section 118 and her evidence must receive the same weight as is attached to an injured in cases of physical violence. The same degree of care and caution must attach in the evaluation of her evidence as in the case of an injured complainant or witness and no more.

What is necessary is that the court must be alive to and conscious of the fact that it is dealing with the evidence of a person who is interested in the outcome of the charge levelled by her. If the court keeps this in mind and feels satisfied that it can act on the evidence of the prosecutrix, there is no rule of law or practice incorporated in the Evidence Act similar to illustration (b) to Section 114 which requires it to look for corroboration. If for some reason the court is hesitant to place implicit reliance on the testimony of the prosecurtix it may look for evidence which may lend assurance to her testimony short of corroboration required in the case of an accomplice.

The nature of evidence required to lend assurance to the testimony of the prosecutrix must necessarily depend on the facts and circumstances of each case. But if a prosecutrix is an adult and of full understanding the court is entitled to base a conviction of her evidence unless the same is shown to be infirm and not trustworthy. If the totality of the circumstances appearing on the record of the case disclose that the prosecutrix does not have a strong motive to falsely involve the person charged, the court should ordinarily have no hesitation in accepting her evidence.”

False Cases

In Rape cases, it is favourite contention of accused that victim is levelling false charge against them as her father has previous civil litigation or previous enmity against the accused.

The court said that,  

No father could stoop so low as to bring forth a false charge of rape on his unmarried minor daughter with a view to take revenge from the father of an accused on account of pending civil litigation.

Stigma of loose character or habitual sexual intercourse

Where there is some acceptable material on the record to show that the victim was habituated to sexual intercourse, no such inference like the victim being a girl of “loose moral character” is permissible to be drawn from that circumstance alone.

Even if the prosecutrix, in a given case, has been promiscuous in her sexual behavior earlier, she has a right to refuse to submit herself to sexual intercourse to anyone and everyone because she is not a vulnerable object or prey for being sexually assaulted by anyone had everyone.

No stigma case should be cast against such a witness by the Courts, for after all it is the accused and not the victim of sex crime who is on trial in the Court.

Guidelines to the Court

The Courts, shoulder a great responsibility while trying an accused on charges of rape.

  • They must deal with such cases with utmost sensitivity.
  • The Courts should examine the broader probabilities of a case and not get swayed by minor contradictions or insignificant discrepancies in the statement of the prosecutrix, which are not of a fatal nature, to throw out an otherwise reliable prosecution case.
  • If evidence of the prosecutrix inspirers confidence, it must be relied upon without seeking corroboration of her statement in material particulars.
  • If for some reason the Court finds it difficult to place implicit reliance on her testimony, it may look for evidence which may lend assurance to her testimony, short of corroboration required in the case of an accomplice.
  • The testimony of the prosecutrix must be appreciated in the background of the entire case and the trial court must be alive to its responsibility and be sensitive while dealing with cases involving sexual molestations.

On cross examination

There has been lately, lot of criticism of the treatment of the victims of sexual assault in the court during their cross-examination. The provisions of Evidence Act regarding relevancy of facts notwithstanding, some defence counsel adopt the strategy of continual questioning of the prosecutrix as to the details of the rape.

The victim is required to repeat again and again the details of the rape incident not so much as to bring out the facts on record or to test her credibility but to test her story for inconsistencies with a view to attempt to twist the interpretation of events given by her so as to make them appear inconsistent with her allegations.

  • The Court, therefore, should not sit as a silent spectator while the victim of crime being cross-examined by the defence. It must effectively control the recording of evidence in the Court.
  • While every latitude should be given to the accused to test the veracity of the prosecutrix and the credibility of her version through cross-examination, the court must also ensure that cross-examination is not made a means of harassment or causing humiliation to the victim of crime.

A victim of rape, it must be remembered, has already undergone a traumatic experience and if she is made to repeat again and again, in unfamiliar surroundings, what she had been subjected to, she may be too ashamed and even nervous or confused to speak and her silence or a confused stray sentence may be wrongly interpreted as “discrepancies and contradictions” in her evidence.

Statutory provisions on Rape Case

The alarming frequency of crime against women led the Parliament to enact Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 1983 to make the law of rape more realistic. By the Amendment Act, Sections 375 and 376 were amended and certain more penal provisions were incorporated for punishing such custodians who molest a woman under their custody or care.

Section 114-A was also added in the Evidence Act for drawing a conclusive presumption as to the absence of consent in certain prosecutions for rape, involving such custodians.

Section 327 of the Code of Criminal Procedure which deals with the right of an accused to an open trial was also amended by addition of sub-sections 2 and 3 after re- numbering the old Section as sub-section (1).

Sub-sections 2 and 3 of Section 327 Cr. P.C. provide as follows:

Section 327. Court to be open –

(2) Notwithstanding anything contained in sub-section (1), the inquiry into and trial of rape or an offence under Section 376, Section 376-A, Section 376- B, Section 376-C or Section 376-D of the Indian Penal Code shall be conducted in camera:

Provided that the presiding judge may, if he thinks fit, or on an application made by either of the parties, allow any particular person to have access to, or be or remain in, the room or building used by the Court.

(3) Where any proceedings are held under sub-section (2), it shall not be lawful for any person to print or publish any matter in relation to any such proceedings, except with the previous permission of the Court.”

These two provisions are in the nature of exception to the general rule of an open trial. Inspite of the amendment, however, it is seen that the trial courts either are not conscious of the amendment or do not realise its importance for hardly does one come across a case where the enquiry and trial of a rape case has been conducted by the court in camera.

Trial Courts are obliged to conduct trial of rape cases in camera

The expression that the inquiry into and trial of rape “shall be conducted in camera” as occurring in sub- section (2) of Section 327 Cr. P.C. is not only significant but very important.

It casts a duty on the Court to conduct the trial of rape cases etc. invariably “in camera”. The Courts are obliged to act in furtherance of the intention expressed by the Legislature and not to ignore its mandate and must invariably take recourse to the provisions of Section 327 (2) and (3) Cr. P.C. and hold the trial of rape cases in camera.

It would enable the victim of crime to be a little comfortable and answer the questions with greater ease in not too familiar surroundings. Trial in camera would not only be in keeping with the self-respect of the victim of crime and in tune with the legislative intent but is also likely to improve the quality of the evidence of a prosecutrix because she would not be so hesitant or bashful to depose frankly as she may be in an open court, under the gaze of public. The improved quality of her evidence would assist the courts in arriving at the truth and sifting truth from falsehood.

Supreme Court’s Advice to High Courts

The High Courts would be well advised to draw the attention of the trial courts to the amended provisions of Section 327 Cr. P.C. When trials are held in camera, it would not be lawful for any person to print or publish any matter in relation to the proceedings in the case, except with the previous permission of the Court as envisaged by Section 327 (3) Cr. P.C. This would save any further embarrassment being caused to the victim of sex crime.

Wherever possible it may also be worth considering whether it would not be more desirable that the cases of sexual assaults on the females are tried by lady Judges, wherever available, so that the prosecutrix can make her statement with greater ease and assist the Courts to properly discharge their duties, without allowing the truth to be sacrificed at the altar of rigid technicalities while appreciating evidence in such cases.

The Courts should, as far as possible, avoid disclosing the name of the prosecutrix in their orders to save further embarrassment to the victim of sex crime. The anonymity of the victim of the crime must be maintained as far as possible throughout.

REFERENCE

The State of Punjab vs Gurmit Singh & Ors, 1996 AIR 1393, 1996 SCC (2) 384


[1] Jain (1990 (1) SCC 550)