Supreme Court: 'Testimony of Disabled-Prosecutrix Can't Be Considered Inferior'; Lays Down Rules For Ensuring Justice To Disabled Victims
The Supreme Court (SC) in the case titled Patan Jamal Vali (Appellant) v. State of Andhra Pradesh (Respondent) held that testimony of a prosecutrix with a disability cannot be considered weak or inferior merely because the person is differently-abled. The Court ruled that as the testimony of such a witness otherwise meets the criteria for inspiring judicial confidence, it is entitled to full legal weight.
The SC bench comprising of Justices DY Chandrachud and MR Shah while holding that testimony of differently-abled prosecutrix cannot be considered inferior also issued a slew of guidelines addressing the issue of the discrimination against disabled persons and to make the judicial system more disabled-friendly.
In the instant matter, the SC was hearing an appeal by an accused who was convicted of raping a blind girl belonging to a Scheduled Caste (SC) community.
The accused person was sentenced to life imprisonment and was charged under Section 376 IPC and Section 3(2)(v) of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
The Sessions Court had convicted the appellant and High Court (HC) upheld the conviction in 2019. An appeal was filed before the Apex Court against the decision of the HC.
Guidelines laid down by the SC Bench
The Top Court has laid down the following guidelines to ensure that justice is disabled-friendly:
"(i) The National Judicial Academy and state judicial academies are requested to sensitize trial and appellate judges to deal with cases involving survivors of sexual abuse. This training should acquaint judges with the special provisions, concerning such survivors, such as those outlined above.
Public prosecutors and standing counsel should also undergo similar training in this regard. The Bar Council of India can consider introducing courses in the LL. B program that cover these topics and the intersectional nature of violence more generally;
(ii) Trained special educators and interpreters must be appointed to ensure the effective realization of the reasonable accommodations embodied in the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2013. All police stations should maintain a database of such educators, interpreters, and legal aid providers, in order to facilitate easy access and coordination;
(iii) The National Crimes Record Bureau should seriously consider the possibility of maintaining disaggregated data on gender-based violence;
(iv) Police officers should be provided sensitization, on a regular basis, to deal with cases of sexual violence against women with disabilities, in an appropriate way; and
(v) Awareness-raising campaigns must be conducted, in accessible formats, to inform women and girls with disabilities, about their rights when they are at the receiving end of any form of sexual abuse."
In this case, the victim was blind and she had no visual contact with the world. Considering the facts and material on record the SC ruled that "Victim's primary mode of identifying those around her, therefore, is by the sound of their voice. And so her testimony is entitled to equal weight as that of a prosecutrix who would have been able to visually identify the appellant."
Reliance was placed on several precedents that also included the decision of the Chhattisgarh High Court in Tekan v. State of Madhya Pradesh, 2014 Cri LJ 1409, where the Court dealt with the conviction of a person accused of raping a blind woman on multiple occasions, on the promise of marriage. The High Court was acutely aware of the misuse of the woman's disability by the accused and sentenced him to 7 years of rigorous imprisonment. The conviction and sentence were later upheld by the SC.
Conclusion and Findings of the SC
Based on the aforesaid observations the SC concluded that the conviction under Section 376(1) and the sentence imposed by the Sessions Judge must be affirmed. The Court passed the following orders-
(i) The conviction of the appellant for an offense under Section 3(2)(v) of the SC and ST Act and the sentence imposed in respect of the offense is set aside and the appeal allowed to that extent; and
(ii) The conviction of the appellant for an offense punishable under Section 376(1) of the Penal Code and the sentence of imprisonment for life was upheld.
(iii) The fine of Rs 1,000/- and default imprisonment of six months imposed by the Sessions Judge and affirmed by the High Court stood confirmed.