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Important For Courts To Remain Sensitive When Dealing With Victims Of Sexual Harassment: SC

It said that especially in cases where the police fail to address the grievance of such sexual complainants, the Courts have an important responsibility and the trial court should complete cross-examination in one sitting, as far as possible.

Supreme Court
Supreme Court PTI

The Supreme Court has said that it is important for all courts to remain sensitive to the trauma, societal shame, and unwarranted stigma attached to victims of sexual harassment while ensuring that the process of attempting to bring perpetrators to justice is not onerous for the aggrieved persons.

It said that especially in cases where the police fail to address the grievance of such sexual complainants, the Courts have an important responsibility and the trial court should complete cross-examination in one sitting, as far as possible.

The apex court said police should put the complainant at ease and try to create an atmosphere free from fear.

The top court said, "The Courts must try to ensure that the process of attempting to bring alleged perpetrators to justice is not onerous for the victims. Aggrieved persons should not have to run from pillar to post for the mere registration of a complaint and initiation of investigation especially when a cognizable offence is prima facie made out in their complaint". 

A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and JB Pardiwala in its recent verdict laid down a slew of important directions for the courts to deal with sexual assault cases and said that it is the duty and responsibility of trial courts to deal with the aggrieved persons before them in an appropriate manner.

"Finally, we wish to once again reiterate the importance of courts dealing with complainants of sexual harassment and sexual assault in a sensitive manner. It is important for all courts to remain cognizant of the fact that the legal process tends to be even more onerous for complainants who are potentially dealing with trauma and societal shame due to the unwarranted stigma attached to victims of sexual harassment and assault", it said.  

The bench said that at this juncture, especially in cases where the police fail to address the grievance of such complainants, the Courts have an important responsibility.

The top court verdict came while dealing with an appeal filed by an alleged sexual assault victim from Madhya Pradesh challenging an order of the High Court by which it had dismissed her plea against the magistrate court's order for a police probe into her charge against a person at her workplace.

The bench said that the court should "Allow proceedings to be conducted in camera, where appropriate, either under Section 327 CrPC or when the case otherwise involves the aggrieved person (or other witnesses) testifying as to their experience of sexual harassment /violence".

It said that the trial court should allow the installation of a screen to ensure that the aggrieved woman does not have to see the accused while testifying or in the alternative, direct the accused to leave the room while the aggrieved woman’s testimony is being recorded.

The bench said that the trial court should ensure "that the counsel for the accused conducts the cross-examination of the aggrieved woman in a respectful fashion and without asking inappropriate questions, especially regarding the sexual history of the aggrieved woman. Cross-examination may also be conducted such that the counsel for the accused submits her questions to the court, who then poses them to the aggrieved woman".

The bench, which set aside the direction of the judicial magistrate of not ordering the police probe on her complaint and the High Court order, said that this court has not expressed any opinion on the allegations which have been levelled in the complaint.  

The top court said that especially in cases alleging sexual harassment, sexual assault, or any similar criminal allegation wherein the victim has possibly already been traumatized, the Courts should not further burden the complainant and should press upon the police to investigate.  

Dealing with the police action in the instant case, the bench said, "We cannot help but note that the police’s inaction, in this case, is most unfortunate. It is every police officer’s bounden duty to carry out his or her functions in a public-spirited manner".  

It said that the police must be cognizant of the fact that they are usually the first point of contact for a victim of a crime or a complainant and they must abide by the law and enable the smooth registration of an FIR.  

"Needless to say, they must treat all members of the public in a fair and impartial manner. This is all the more essential in cases of sexual harassment or violence, where victims (who are usually women) face great societal stigma when they attempt to file a complaint. It is no secret that women’s families often do not approve of initiating criminal proceedings in cases of sexual harassment. Various quarters of society attempt to persuade the survivor not to register a complaint or initiate other formal proceedings, and they often succeed", it said.  

The top court said that finally, visiting the police station and interacting with police officers can be an intimidating experience for many and this discomfort is often compounded if the reason for visiting the police station is to complain of a sexual offence.

"This being the case, the police ought not to create yet another obstacle by declining to register an FIR despite receiving a complaint regarding sexual harassment", it said, adding that they should put the complainant at ease and try to create an atmosphere free from fear.

-With PTI Input

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