Non-reporting of sexual assault against minor a 'serious crime': Supreme Court [3.11.2022]

The non-reporting of sexual assault against a minor despite knowledge is a "serious crime" and an attempt to shield the offenders, the Supreme Court said on Wednesday.

The apex court said prompt and proper reporting of commission of offence under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act is of utmost importance and the failure to do so would defeat the very purpose and object of the law.

The top court set aside the Bombay High Court's judgment of April last year quashing an FIR and the charge sheet regarding a medical practitioner who allegedly did not inform the authority about sexual assault against several minor girls at a hostel despite having knowledge about it.

A bench of Justices Ajay Rastogi and C T Ravikumar observed it is true that the FIR and the charge sheet still remain in respect of other accused in the case.

"But then, non-reporting of sexual assault against a minor child despite knowledge is a serious crime and more often than not, it is an attempt to shield the offenders of the crime of sexual assault, the bench said in its 28-page judgment.

The apex court delivered its verdict on an appeal filed by the state of Maharashtra, through the police, against the high court judgment.

The bench, while referring to a previous verdict delivered by the top court, noted it was observed in the judgment that "this is an unfortunate case where the provisions of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 are rendered simply a pious hope of the Parliament and a teasing illusion for the appellant."

"Even while, borrowing those words, we may say, we are not peeved, but certainly pained, as a legitimate prosecution under another Act viz, the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, has been throttled at the threshold by the exercise of power under section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC), without permitting the materials in support to it to see the light of the day in respect of misprision of sexual assault against minor tribal girls in a girls' hostel, the bench said.

Section 482 of the CrPC deals with inherent powers of the high court.

The apex court observed that FIR in the matter came to be registered on the accusation of commission of sexual offences against minor tribal girls, who were students of a school in Rajura and were residing in its girls' hostel.

It noted that the medical practitioner, on whose plea the high court had delivered the verdict, was arraigned as the sixth accused in the case essentially for the alleged failure to report the commission of offence under the POCSO Act in compliance with the legal obligation under the provision of the law.

The bench also noted that during the investigation, it was found that 17 minor girls were allegedly abused and the medical practitioner was appointed for treatment of girls admitted to the hostel.

It said the case of the police is that some among the 17 victims have given statements that the medical practitioner was informed of the sexual assault on them.

The top court observed that exercise of power under section 482 of the CrPC is an exception and not the rule and it is to be exercised to do real and substantial justice for the administration of which alone courts exist.

The bench said provisions of the POCSO Act would reveal that it also aims to ensure that such offenders are not spared and should be properly booked.

"To achieve the avowed purpose, a legal obligation for reporting of offence under the POCSO Act is cast upon on a person to inform the relevant authorities specified thereunder when he/she has knowledge that an offence under the Act had been committed," it said.

The bench said medical examination of the victim as also the accused would give many important clues in a case that falls under the POCSO Act.

"There can be no two views that in relation to sexual offences medical evidence has much corroborative value, it said.

It said if the FIR and the materials collected during the probe discloses the commission of a prima facie case under provisions of the POCSO Act, the truthfulness, sufficiency or admissibility of the evidence are not matters falling within the purview of exercise of power under section 482 of the CrPC and undoubtedly they are matters to be done by the trial court at the time of trial.

While allowing the appeal, it said the high court's verdict resulting in the quashing of FIR and charge sheet throttling the prosecution at the threshold, without allowing the materials in support of it to see the light of the day, cannot be said to be as an exercise done to secure interests of justice.

03 Nov 2022