In two significant directives the Supreme Court of India has said that lack of medical evidence is not grounds to discount a rape victim's testimony, and that given the social stigma the victim's identity should be kept confidential even in judgements
A rape victim's statement cannot be rejected even if a medical examination fails to reveal physical evidence of rape, the Supreme Court of India has ruled. The apex court also directed lower courts that the identity of a rape victim should be kept anonymous even in judgments.
"Even if the doctor who examined the victim does not find sign of rape, it is no ground to disbelieve the sole testimony of the prosecutrix (the alleged victim)," a Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Arijit Pasayat said on May 12.
The Bench said a victim's testimony does not require corroboration, and courts must not be "swayed" by minor contradictions in her statement. If the evidence of the woman inspires confidence, it should be relied upon without seeking corroboration. "The Evidence Act nowhere says that her evidence cannot be accepted unless it is corroborated in material particulars," the SC ruled.
Ordinarily, a victim of sexual assault would not like to reveal the details of the incident even before her family, let alone the public or the police, the Bench said. "The courts should examine the broader probabilities of a case and not get swayed by minor contradictions or insignificant discrepancies in the statement of the prosecutrix, which are not of a fatal nature, to throw out an otherwise reliable prosecution case."
Expressing concern at the increase in crimes against women, the court suggested that high courts and trial courts, in their judgments, should not name the victims of sexual assault. The SC bench said the complainant in a rape case must be referred to as "the "victim''.
Anyone who discloses a rape victim's identity is liable to suffer punishment, the Bench ruled. "Keeping in view the social object of preventing social victimisation or ostracism of the victim of a sexual offence for which Section 228-A (of the Indian Penal Code) has been enacted, it would be appropriate that in the judgments, be it of this Court, or lower courts, the name of the victim should not be indicated," said the Bench.
It also called on subordinate courts to deal with such cases with the utmost sensitivity.
The apex court's directions came during the hearing of a case where it reduced the sentence of a man convicted of raping a woman who was six months pregnant, from 10 years to seven. The court said that the prosecution had not proved that the convict was aware that the victim was pregnant at the time of the incident.
Source: The Telegraph, May 14, 2006
DNA, May 13, 2006