The delay in trials of victims in sexual abuse cases often leads to “re-victimisation and ignominy,” as the trial process itself “makes the victim relive the horrific experience,” the Bombay High Court has said. The court noted that in the case of children, it may lead to further trauma due to their vulnerability.
Justice Revati Mohite Dere of the Bombay High Court, in an order of April 1 that was made available on Friday, said delay in recording depositions would bring back the memories the child/victim would want to forget, to haunt them, thus adding to the trauma. The court noted that the possibility of the child being won over due to delay, rendering the victim hostile, also cannot be ruled out.
“It is possible that the appearance of the accused may undergo some change, making it difficult for the child/victim to identify/recognise the perpetrator, thus, benefiting the accused. It is also possible that the child/victim is from a different state and would want to go back to her hometown,” the bench noted.
Justice Dere further said that in several cases, victims are not examined for years and therefore, it is imperative to give some directions to all special courts, concerning the examination of the victim in POCSO cases.
The high court directed all special courts in Maharashtra to ensure deposition of the child/victim is recorded as expeditiously as possible and be concluded preferably on the same day unless adjournment is warranted. The courts have been asked to ensure the victim/child is not called frequently to court, “as it would add to the victim/child’s trauma,” and minimal adjournments be granted whilst examining the victim.
It further said that when the minor victim is examined, all safeguards such as child-friendly practices be adopted to ensure that the victim feels safe, comfortable, and is not in any way exposed to the accused.
The court directed that the proceedings are conducted in-camera; that all measures as stipulated in the Act and directions are given by various judgments are duly complied with.
The Judge had passed the order while hearing the bail plea of an accused arrested under the provisions of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, wherein, advocates Sujay Gangal and Anand Shalgaonkar argued that despite the trial having been expedited, the evidence of 11-year-old victim has not been recorded till date. The applicant had sought release on medical grounds citing he was HIV positive. The judge rejected the bail plea as the applicant’s health was “stable” and asked the jail authorities to provide all necessary medical treatment to him.
Justice Dere noted that while it may not be possible to complete the trial within one year from the date of cognisance of the case, where the victim is young, “it is imperative that the Judge should record at least the evidence from the child/victim, as expeditiously as possible, lest the minor forgets the incident due to passage of time. Younger the child/victim, earlier the recording.”
“In cases of sexual assault, the child/victim, suffers not only physical trauma but even mental and emotional trauma, requiring the child/victim to undergo counselling and at times, even psychiatric help. The endeavour of the counsellor is to help the child/victim tide over the trauma… delay in examination of the child/victim would only stand to benefit the accused, making it difficult for the child/victim to recall the incident vividly, whilst deposing in Ccurt,” the HC added.
The HC directed that the special Judge, if necessary, can call the child/victim to court before the recording of the deposition to acclimatise with the set-up, which can aid the child/victim in deposing freely, without fear or anxiety.
Justice Dere also asked the courts to ensure that the victim’s parents or any other person in whom the child has trust or confidence, is present at the time of examination of the child and a special court, if required, can examine the child at a place other than the court.