Bombay High Court Criticizes Trial Court’s Lenient Sentence under POCSO Act


LI Network

Published on: 12 September 2023 at 19:41 IST

The Bombay High Court has expressed its strong disapproval of a sessions judge’s decision to impose a mere 3-year prison sentence on an individual convicted of attempting to sexually assault a 10-year-old child.

This verdict has come under scrutiny, especially considering the stringent provisions outlined in the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO Act) that call for more severe penalties in such cases.

The case, identified as Rodu Bhaga Wagh v. State of Maharashtra & Anr., brought to light serious concerns regarding the implementation of the POCSO Act by judges and special prosecutors.

Justice Bharati Dangre, presiding over the case, raised questions about the recurring errors in the application of the law, which ultimately jeopardize justice and the protection of children.

In a scathing remark, the High Court criticized the State and Special Public Prosecutor for their apparent inaction in rectifying these flawed implementations of the legislation.

The POCSO Act was specifically enacted to safeguard children from grave sexual offenses, recognized as heinous acts. The Act was deemed necessary due to the inadequacy of provisions within the Indian Penal Code (IPC) to address such crimes adequately.

Consequently, the High Court issued a directive to the principal secretary of the State’s law and judiciary department, instructing them to provide an affidavit outlining the steps to be taken when prosecutors fail to rectify glaring errors in implementing the POCSO Act.

“The affidavit shall also specifically state what the State Department intends to do, once this glaring aspect is brought to its notice.

The public prosecutor (of the High Court) shall place the necessary material before the Principal Secretary, Law and Judiciary Department, who shall file his affidavit within a period of two weeks from today,” the Court ordered.

Furthermore, the Court urged the principal secretary to propose a mechanism aimed at raising awareness about the POCSO Act, given that even the investigating agency had failed to invoke the correct provisions in the case at hand.

The convicted individual in this case was a 64-year-old man found guilty of attempting to rape a 10-year-old child.

The trial court, surprisingly, imposed a 3-year rigorous imprisonment sentence by invoking Section 18 of the POCSO Act, which deals with the attempt to commit an offense, along with Sections 4 and 6, addressing sexual assault and penetrative sexual assault, respectively.

The High Court questioned the trial court’s decision, particularly the judge’s choice to impose only a 3-year sentence. This was puzzling considering that the minimum penalties for the main offenses under Sections 4 and 6 were 7 years and 10 years, respectively, with life imprisonment as the maximum punishment.

The High Court emphasized that the law did not permit a court to impose a sentence below the minimum prescribed punishment, with discretion only applicable within the range of lesser to maximum penalties. In this context, the Court asserted, “If Section 18 contemplates imprisonment for life, as the longest punishment, then in no case, the punishment could have been restricted to 3 years of rigorous imprisonment.”

The Court raised the critical question of accountability, probing into who should be held responsible for such miscarriages of justice, not only among the judges but also the special prosecutors.

The High Court indicated its intention to issue appropriate directions to enhance accountability among POCSO judges once it receives the State government’s affidavit on this matter.

The case highlights the pressing need for greater vigilance and adherence to the stringent provisions of the POCSO Act to protect children from sexual offenses and ensure that justice prevails.

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