“Judges play – at all levels – a vital role as teachers and thought leaders. It is their role to be impartial in words and action, at all times. If they falter, especially in gender-related crimes, they imperil fairness and inflict great cruelty in the casual blindness to the despair of the survivors,” said the Supreme Court bench of Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and S. Ravindra Bhat.
The Apex Court on Thursday has directed the National Judicial Academy to devise, speedily, the necessary inputs which have to be made part of the training of young judges, as well as form part of judges’ continuing education with respect to gender sensitization, with adequate awareness programmes regarding stereotyping and unconscious biases that can creep into judicial reasoning.
The Court said, “It holds that the use of reasoning/language which diminishes the offence and tends to trivialize the survivor, is especially to be avoided under all circumstances. Thus, the following conduct, actions or situations are hereby deemed irrelevant, e.g. – to say that the survivor had in the past consented to such or similar acts or that she behaved promiscuously, or by her acts or clothing, provoked the alleged action of the accused, that she behaved in a manner unbecoming of chaste or “Indian” women, or that she had called upon the situation by her behaviour, etc. These instances are only illustrations of an attitude which should never enter judicial verdicts or orders or be considered relevant while making a judicial decision; they cannot be reasons for granting bail or other such relief. Similarly, imposing conditions that implicitly tend to condone or diminish the harm caused by the accused and have the effect of potentially exposing the survivor to secondary trauma, such as mandating mediation processes in non-compoundable offences, mandating as part of bail conditions, community service (in a manner of speaking with the so-called reformative approach towards the perpetrator of sexual offence) or requiring tendering of apology once or repeatedly, or in any manner getting or being in touch with the survivor, is especially forbidden.”
It said, “The law does not permit or countenance such conduct, where the survivor can potentially be traumatized many times over or be led into some kind of non-voluntary acceptance, or be compelled by the circumstances to accept and condone behavior what is a serious offence.”
The Court said that the idea is that the greatest extent of sensitivity is to be displayed in the judicial approach, language and reasoning adopted by the judge. Even a solitary instance of such order or utterance in court, reflects adversely on the entire judicial system of the country, undermining the guarantee to fair justice to all, and especially to victims of sexual violence (of any kind from the most aggravated to the so-called minor offences).
The Court has further laid down the guidelines to be followed;
(a) Bail conditions should not mandate, require or permit contact between the accused and the victim. Such conditions should seek to protect the complainant from any further harassment by the accused;
(b) Where circumstances exist for the court to believe that there might be a potential threat of harassment of the victim, or upon apprehension expressed, after calling for reports from the police, the nature of protection shall be separately considered and appropriate order made, in addition to a direction to the accused not to make any contact with the victim;
(c) In all cases where bail is granted, the complainant should immediately be informed that the accused has been granted bail and copy of the bail order made over to him/her within two days;
(d) Bail conditions and orders should avoid reflecting stereotypical or patriarchal notions about women and their place in society, and must strictly be in accordance with the requirements of the Cr. PC. In other words, discussion about the dress, behavior, or past “conduct” or “morals” of the prosecutrix, should not enter the verdict granting bail;
(e) The courts while adjudicating cases involving gender related crimes, should not suggest or entertain any notions (or encourage any steps) towards compromises between the prosecutrix and the accused to get married, suggest or mandate mediation between the accused and the survivor, or any form of compromise as it is beyond their powers and jurisdiction;
(f) Sensitivity should be displayed at all times by judges, who should ensure that there is no traumatization of the prosecutrix, during the proceedings, or anything said during the arguments, and
(g) Judges especially should not use any words, spoken or written, that would undermine or shake the confidence of the survivor in the fairness or impartiality of the court.
The Apex Court has further directed that the courts should desist from expressing any stereotype opinion, in words spoken during proceedings, or in the course of a judicial order, to the effect that (i) women are physically weak and need protection; (ii) women are incapable of or cannot take decisions on their own; (iii) men are the “head” of the household and should take all the decisions relating to family; (iv) women should be submissive and obedient according to our culture; (v) “good” women are sexually chaste; (vi) motherhood is the duty and role of every woman, and assumptions to the effect that she wants to be a mother; (vii) women should be the ones in charge of their children, their upbringing and care; (viii) being alone at night or wearing certain clothes make women responsible for being attacked; (ix) a woman consuming alcohol, smoking, etc. may justify unwelcome advances by men or “has asked for it”; (x) women are emotional and often overreact or dramatize events, hence it is necessary to corroborate their testimony; (xi) testimonial evidence provided by women who are sexually active may be suspected when assessing “consent” in sexual offence cases; and (xii) lack of evidence of physical harm in sexual offence case leads to an inference of consent by the woman.
The Court has noted in its order, “As far as the training and sensitization of judges and lawyers, including public prosecutors goes, this court hereby mandates that a module on gender sensitization be included, as part of the foundational training of every judge. This module must aim at imparting techniques for judges to be more sensitive in hearing and deciding cases of sexual assault, and eliminating entrenched social bias, especially misogyny. The module should also emphasize the prominent role that judges are expected to play in society, as role models and thought leaders, in promoting equality and ensuring fairness, safety and security to all women who allege the perpetration of sexual offences against them. Equally, the use of language and appropriate words and phrases should be emphasized as part of this training.”
The Supreme Court pronounced its judgment on the petition seeking directions that all the High Courts and trial Courts be directed to refrain from making observations and imposing conditions in rape and sexual assault cases, at any stage of judicial proceedings, that trivialize the trauma undergone by survivors and adversely affect their dignity. Certain intervenors also preferred an application in support of the appeal, seeking clear directions to all Courts to refrain from imposing “irrelevant, freaky or illegal bail conditions”.
The petitions were filed by Supreme Court advocate Aparna Bhat and eight other women lawyers challenging a July 2020 order of the High Court. The Madhya Pradesh High Court in its order had directed an accused for “outraging the modesty” of his woman neighbour, to visit her house with a box of sweets and ask her to tie a rakhi, to promise her that he would protect her in future.
The Apex Court last year on December 2 had reserved its order after hearing a petition filed by a group of women lawyers seeking directions from the Apex Court against orders which trivialize heinous crimes such as sexual harassment of women and children.
The women lawyers’ plea stated that such orders objectify women and grossly trivialize the trauma suffered by them. They argued that asking the accused to visit the house of the victim and ask her to tie a Rakhi around his wrist with the promise to protect her resulted in further victimization of the woman in her own house.
The Apex Court has directed that Each High Court should, with the help of relevant experts, formulate a module on judicial sensitivity to sexual offences, to be tested in the Judicial Services Examination.
“In the light of the above, the bail conditions in the impugned judgment, extracted at para 3 above, are set aside, and expunged from the record,” said the Supreme Court.
Read the judgment here;20318_2020_35_1501_27140_Judgement_18-Mar-2021