False Allegation of Rape Causes Distress & Humiliation to Accused: Supreme Court

Supreme Court Law Insider

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Published on: October 31, 2023 at 14:52 IST

The Supreme Court, while acquitting a man accused of rape under Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code, has emphasized that false allegations of rape can inflict significant distress and humiliation on the accused, just as the victim of a real rape endures suffering and shame.

The Court stressed that caution and diligence are essential when assessing the testimony of the prosecutrix in rape cases.

The Court, consisting of a 3-judge bench comprising Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Sudhanshu Dhulia, and C.T. Ravikumar, heard an appeal against the Punjab & Haryana High Court’s judgment, which had upheld the appellant’s conviction and sentenced him to 7 years of rigorous imprisonment.

The alleged offense occurred in 2000 when the age of consent, as per the Indian Penal Code, was 16 years. However, the girl’s age, allegedly about 15 years at the time of the incident, was disputed.

The lack of clear evidence that the girl was under 16 and the presence of circumstances suggesting a consensual act prompted the Supreme Court to overturn the conviction.

The case began when the girl’s father lodged a complaint, alleging that the appellant had raped his daughter 2-3 times while she was taking care of his sister after childbirth. Initially, there were attempts to settle the matter through the marriage of the prosecutrix and the appellant.

When this proposal was rejected, a First Information Report (FIR) was filed under Sections 376 (rape), 342 (wrongful confinement), and 506 (criminal intimidation) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

The Court, in its judgment, cited several key principles:

  1. A conviction in a rape case can be based solely on the testimony of the prosecutrix, but the Court must exercise caution in evaluating her statements.
  2. While the testimony of the prosecutrix is generally considered trustworthy, it cannot be mechanically applied to every sexual assault case.
  3. If the Court finds it difficult to rely solely on the prosecutrix’s testimony, it may look for supporting evidence.

The Court then applied these principles to the case, raising questions about the reliability of the prosecutrix’s testimony. Notably, she did not immediately disclose the incident, and there were doubts about her claims. The Court observed that these facts cast doubt on the prosecution’s story.

Additionally, the Court highlighted the need for open-minded and dispassionate examination of evidence, emphasizing that in the adversarial system of criminal jurisprudence, the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

One significant concern the Court raised was the age of the prosecutrix. The only evidence supporting the claim that she was under 16 years old was the school register, which the Court found insufficient to make that determination. The Court stressed the importance of conducting a bone ossification test to reliably determine the victim’s age, which was not done in this case.

Ultimately, the Court concluded that the case did not meet the criteria for a rape offense, as there was no evidence to suggest that the sexual intercourse between the appellant and the prosecutrix was against her will or without her consent. As a result, the Court acquitted the appellant under Section 376 of the IPC.

Case Title: Manak Chand v. State of Haryana

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