Attorney General slams Bombay HC acquittal of POCSO accused

Discharge over lack of ‘skin-to-skin’ contact would set a dangerous precedent: Venugopal

August 24, 2021 09:41 pm | Updated 09:42 pm IST - NEW DELHI

K.K. Venugopal, Attorney General of India. File.

K.K. Venugopal, Attorney General of India. File.

Attorney General K.K. Venugopal in the Supreme Court on Tuesday slammed the Bombay High Court’s decision to acquit a man charged with assault under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) solely on the ground that he groped the child over her clothes without ‘skin-to-skin’ contact.

“Someone can wear a surgical glove and exploit a child and get away scot-free... This is an outrageous order,” Mr. Venugopal exclaimed.

Mr. Venugopal had approached the Supreme Court against the High Court in his constitutional capacity as the Attorney General. He had argued that the order would set a “very dangerous precedent” and cripple the intention of POCSO to punish sexual offenders.

Mr. Venugopal said the order has a deleterious effect when the number of POCSO cases have reached 43,000 in one year.

The court scheduled the case for hearing on September 14 on learning that the accused was not represented by a lawyer. It directed the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee to provide him a lawyer. Senior advocate Siddharth Dave has been appointed amicus curiae in the case.

On January 19, a Single Judge of the Bombay High Court’s Nagpur Bench sparked a furore after acquitting a man charged under POCSO and holding that an act against a minor would amount to groping or sexual assault only if there was “skin-to-skin” contact.

The HC had concluded that mere touching or pressing of a clothed body of a child did not amount to sexual assault.

“The accused was sentenced to the minimum three years’ imprisonment under Section 8 of the POCSO Act. That was set aside by the HC and his sentence was reduced to one year under Section 354 (assault of a women to outrage her modesty) of the Indian Penal Code... This is very disturbing,” Mr. Venugopal had submitted in the apex court shortly after he mentioned the case.

The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) had earlier asked the Maharashtra government to urgently appeal the High Court judgment.

Meanwhile, several organisations, including the Youth Bar Association of India, represented by advocate Manju Jetley, had also moved the apex court against the HC judgment.

These petitioners had said they were “badly perturbed” to note that the January 19 verdict contained several observations about the victim child’s modesty, which were both “derogatory and defamatory”. The child was even named in the judgment, the petition said.

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