Plea in SC to gag judges from making ‘extraneous’ comments in rape cases
The need for this was felt after a petition was moved by a group of nine women lawyers who objected to crass comments made by judges across the country in their order while dealing with bail of an accused in a sexual harassment case.Updated: Oct 16, 2020, 21:47 IST
The Supreme Court on Friday sought to know from Attorney General KK Venugopal whether a gag order can be issued against all high courts and other trial courts from commenting anything that trivialises the incident or harms the woman’s dignity while dealing with sexual assault cases.
The need for this was felt after a petition was moved by a group of nine women lawyers who objected to crass comments made by judges across the country in their order while dealing with bail of an accused in a sexual harassment case.
The immediate trigger for filing the petition was an order passed by an Indore Bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court on July 30 this year. In the order, the judge allowed bail to a man accused of sexually harassing his neighbor by forcibly entering her house where she stayed with her family. As a bail condition, the court asked him to request the woman to tie a rakhi on Raksha Bandhan and promise to protect her dignity in future.
“This is an extraordinary order which is totally against the principles of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC). The judge is aiming at reconciliation when the accused in sexual crimes need to be severely dealt with,” said senior advocate Sanjay Parikh, representing the application of advocate Aparna Bhatt and eight others.
The application listed out instances where similar utterances were passed by various High Court judges and trial courts too. “We are not concerned with the bail granted in the present case but what worries us is a growing phenomenon where extraneous conditions/observations are being made in many cases related to women, which tend to trivialise the offences committed. Violence against women and more particularly sexual violence against women are extremely serious offences and need to be treated stringently by the courts.”
Among the highlighted cases was an order passed by the Karnataka High Court on June 22 this year when the judge went on to question the character of the woman who complained that a man had raped her in the office after she had few drinks with him. The order was later modified after widespread protests.
On September 2, the Madhya Pradesh High Court allowed bail to an alleged rapist in order to marry the victim.
The group of lawyers in their application said, “In many cases, these conditions are actually in the nature of compromise, which dilute or completely obliterate the heinousness of the crime against the dignity of a woman. These observations also have an impact on the trial and in many cases on account of such observations, the accused get the benefit of acquittal or imposition of lesser sentence.”
The bench of Justices AM Khanwilkar and BR Gavai said, “Since you have asked for a general order for all courts, we will issue notice to the Attorney General for consideration of this position.”
The petition spotlighted the top court’s extraordinary powers under Article 142.
Using Article 142, it can direct all courts to “refrain from passing observations and imposing conditions in rape and sexual assault cases that trivialise the trauma undergone by survivors and which violate their human dignity.”
The courts, according to the petition, must not adopt a soft approach towards the crime or the accused and employ appropriate language that does not compromise the victim’s dignity.