Bombay High Court quashes conviction in POCSO case

A file photo of Bombay High Court in Mumbai.   | Photo Credit: Vivek Bendre

Almost three years after a man was convicted of sexually harassing and assaulting a minor, the Bombay High Court has acquitted him on the ground that the statement of the four-year-old victim cannot be relied upon.

A single bench of Justice Anuja Prabhudessai was hearing a criminal appeal filed by Laxman Varma, challenging an order passed by the special Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act court that sentenced him to rigorous imprisonment for 10 years.

The High Court held that the sessions judge failed to evaluate the reliability of the four-year-old and so it was necessary to scrutinise her evidence to ascertain whether she was a competent witness. The court noted that the sessions judge recorded that she was unable to recall facts and so permitted the public prosecutor to ask her leading questions.

“The tenor of the answers given by the victim in the examination-in-chief as well as in cross examination indicate that she did not have either cognitive skills to remember, recollect and narrate the incident, or the intellectual capacity and maturity to understand the nature of questions and to give rational answers. Consequently, the girl cannot be considered to be a competent witness. The tenor of her deposition indicates that she was under the influence of her mother.

“The sessions Judge has therefore grossly erred in recording conviction solely on the basis of a stray statement of the minor, who being a child of tender age was neither a competent nor a reliable witness,” the court said quashing the conviction.

On May 11, 2017, the girl had complained to her mother of pain in her private part. She told her that Varma, who was hired to paint a neighbouring house, made her sit on his lap and touched her inappropriately. The next day, an FIR was registered and the girl was taken to the hospital for medical examination.

Soon thereafter, a chargesheet was filed and, after a trial, Varma was convicted under sections 354 (assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty), 354A (sexual harassment and sexual punishment for sexual harassment) and 10 (punishment for aggravated sexual assault) under POCSO Act.

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2022 8:45:48 PM |

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