Nirmal Premkumar vs State 2024 INSC 193 – POCSO Accused Acquitted

Criminal Trial – Sexual Offences – Weight to be attached to the testimony of the victim in matters involving sexual offences where the prosecution’s case hinges on the victim’s evidence—in cases where witnesses are neither wholly reliable nor wholly unreliable, the Court should strive to find out the true genesis of the incident. The Court can rely on the victim as a “sterling witness” without further corroboration, but the quality and credibility must be exceptionally high. The statement of the prosecutrix ought to be consistent from the beginning to the end (minor inconsistences excepted), from the initial statement to the oral testimony, without creating any doubt qua the prosecution’s case. While a victim’s testimony is usually enough for sexual offence cases, an unreliable or insufficient account from the prosecutrix, marked by identified flaws and gaps, could make it difficult for a conviction to be recorded – Referred to Krishan Kumar Malik v. State of Haryana (2011) 7 SCC 130, Rai Sandeep v. State (NCT of Delhi)(2012) 8 SCC 21, Ganesan v. State (2020) 10 SCC 573. (Para 15) – When considering the evidence of a victim subjected to a sexual offence, the Court does not necessarily demand an almost accurate account of the incident. Instead, the emphasis is on allowing the victim to provide her version based on her recollection of events, to the extent reasonably possible for her to recollect. If the Court deems such evidence credible and free from doubt, there is hardly any insistence on corroboration of that version. However, an alleged offence of sexual harassment in a public place, as opposed to one committed within the confines of a room or a house, or even in a public place but away from the view of the public, stands on somewhat different premise. If any doubt arises in the Court’s mind regarding the veracity of the victim’s version, the Court may, at its discretion, seek corroboration from other witnesse s who directly observed the incident or from other attending circumstances to unearth the truth. (Para 17,18)

Summary: While setting aside concurrent conviction against two teachers, Supreme Court observed: Conviction undoubtedly can be recorded on the sole evidence of a victim of crime; however, it must undergo a strict scrutiny through the wellsettled legal principles as established by this Court in a catena of decisions. While the actions attributed to A-1, as sought to be demonstrated by the prosecution, may fall within the purview of ‘sexual harassment’ under section 11 of the POCSO Act, the evidence in this case has been marred by inadequacies from the outset, evident in contradictions within statements and testimonies- an act of sexual harassment of a girl student (who is also a minor) by any teacher would figure quite high in the list of offences of grave nature since it has far-reaching consequences, which impact more than just the parties to the proceeding. At the same time, it is axiomatic that reputation is earned by a teacher upon rendering service over the years and an accusation like the present would remain as an indelible mark marring his entire future life. Care has, therefore, to be taken so that his right to live a life of dignity and personal liberty are not put to jeopardy on the basis of half-baked evidence.

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