Can’t Convict Rape Accused Based Solely on Victim’s Testimony: SC

The SC held that the rape accused was also entitled to the benefit of the doubt under the circumstances of this case

Updated
India
4 min read
File photo of the Supreme Court. 
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The Supreme Court on Wednesday, 13 February, acquitted a rape accused, stating that in the circumstances of the case, “it would be unsafe to convict the accused solely on the testimony of the victim,” reported Bar & Bench.

“We would think, in the circumstances of this case, that the appellant cannot be convicted for the offence under Section 376. It would indeed be unsafe to convict him based on the testimony of the prosecutrix. He would certainly be entitled to the benefit of the doubt created by the circumstances,” held a bench, comprising Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and KM Joseph.

The judgment refers to a medico-legal report which states that the prosecutrix is habituated to sexual intercourse.

According to the Bar & Bench, the judgment delivered on Wednesday does not pass any comment or rely on the report obtained. The bench simply included it in its judgment.

Conviction and Appeal

The case in question was a criminal appeal challenging an order that was passed by the Himachal Pradesh High Court, affirming the conviction of the appellant under Sections 376 and 506 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

In the case, the appellant allegedly raped Prosecution Witness 2 (PW 2) and, along with a co-accused, also intimidated her.

The appellant was charged under Sections 376 and 506, read with Section 34 of the IPC, and the co-accused was charged under Section 506 read with Section 34, the judgment said.

The trial court ruled in favour of the prosecution and convicted the appellant and the co-accused, sentencing the former to seven years of simple imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 10,000. He was also sentenced to two years, punishable under Section 506 IPC.

Later, in an appeal in the high court, the co-accused was acquitted, while the appellant’s appeal was unsuccessful, leading to an appeal in the Supreme Court.

While the court noted that there was a delay of seven months in filing the case, the appellant relied upon the judgment of the apex court in the case of Vijayan v. State of Kerala. That case dealt with the impact of delay in filing of complaint on rape cases.

Vijayan v. State of Kerala

In that case, the prosecutrix had waited for seven months before filing the complaint. The explanation given for this was that the accused had promised to marry her.

The court then held that if the prosecutrix had given her consent to sexual intercourse and waited for seven months to file an FIR complaint, then it was dangerous to convict the accused only on the basis of oral testimony.

The Events of the Current Case

The victim was reportedly coming back to her house around 5-6 pm, when the accused, also a resident of the village, dragged her towards a ‘lonely place’ and raped her. Despite raising an alarm, no one came to her rescue. Moreover, the complainant said that the accused threatened her with a knife, preventing her from speaking about the incident to anybody.

According to the complainant’s statement in the judgment, she then became pregnant. She was initially taken in by the accused but thrown out after one day and two nights, after which she filed the complaint.

However, after the SC took the statements of two prosecution witnesses, PW 4 and PW 5, it noted discrepancies in them and discarded them. This meant that the entire case hinged on the statement of only the prosecutrix.

According to the statement of the prosecutrix and her aunt (PW 3), the rape took place near a ‘common path’. The court held that if the prosecutrix had raised an alarm as claimed, it was very unlikely that the labourers near the path would not have heard it.

Going on to address the claim of the accused that it was consensual sex, the court said,There is a case of the appellant that the evidence would make out a case of consensual sex. It is true that in the high court, it is recorded that there is no case of consensual sexual intercourse as such argued, but we have to decide the case on the basis of evidence.”

The court held that there was not enough evidence or no evidence to convict the appellant, adding that it would be unsafe to convict him based only on the testimony of the prosecutrix, reported Bar & Bench.

We would think in the circumstances of this case that the appellant cannot be convicted for the offence under Section 376. It would indeed be unsafe to convict him based on the testimony of the prosecutrix. He would certainly be entitled to the benefit of the doubt, which is created by the very circumstances which we have referred.
The Supreme Court

In the light of this, the Supreme Court allowed the appeal and acquitted the accused.

(With inputs from Bar & Bench.)

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