A compromise between a victim of a rape case and the perpetrator should not be a ground for awarding lesser punishment to the convict as this trend exhibits “stark insensitivity to the need for proportionate punishments”,the Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday.
The court also said religion,race,caste,economic or social status of the accused or the victim,long pendency of the criminal trial,offer of the rapist to marry the victim or the fact that victim is married and settled in life “cannot be construed as special factors for reducing the sentence prescribed by the statute”.
It cautioned the courts subordinate to it that it would not be “safe” to reduce sentence of a rape convict or accused in exercise of their discretionary powers under the Indian Penal Code,merely because the victim has settled the matter.
“A compromise entered into between the parties cannot be construed as a leading factor based on which lesser punishment can be awarded. In interest of justice and to avoid unnecessary pressure/harassment to the victim,it would not be safe in considering the compromise arrived at between the parties in rape cases to be a ground for the court to exercise the discretionary power under the proviso of section 376(2) of IPC,” a bench headed by Chief Justice P Sathasivam said.
“The power under the proviso should not be used indiscriminately in a routine,casual and cavalier manner for the reason that an exception clause requires strict interpretation”,the bench,also comprising justices Ranjana Prakash Desai and Ranjan Gogoi,warned.
The bench said of late some subordinate and high courts have taken a “softer view” and reduced the sentence of an accused to that already undergone during trial,when awarding punishment for such a heinous crime,despite their being stringent provisions for rape under the IPC.
“The above trend exhibits stark insensitivity to need for proportionate punishments to be imposed in such cases,” it said.
Proviso of section 376(2) of IPC states “the court may,for adequate and special reasons to be mentioned in the judgement,impose a sentence of imprisonment of either description for a term of less than ten years.”
The observations were made by the apex court while dismissing the appeals of two gangrape convicts who had challenged their conviction and 10-year jail term awarded to them by the trial court in 1998 and upheld by the Punjab and Haryana High Court in 2011.
They had sought reduction in sentence on the ground that the victim in the case had given in writing that she has entered into a compromise with them and has no objection if their jail term is lowered.
The duo were convicted and sentenced for repeatedly gangraping the victim over a two day period in 1995 after accosting her at knife point from outside her home in Nangal Durgu in Haryana.
Observing that rape is an offence against the society,the bench said it is not something which the parties can settle out of court.
Moreover,it is not necessary the victim’s consent was genuine as it could have been obtained by pressurising her or the trauma she underwent might have compelled her to opt for compromise,the apex court said.
“Rape is a non-compoundable offence and it is an offence against the society and is not a matter to be left for the parties to compromise and settle. Since the court cannot always be assured that consent given by the victim in compromising the case is a genuine consent,there is every chance she might have been pressurised by the convicts or the trauma undergone by her all the years might have compelled her to opt for a compromise.
“In fact,accepting this proposition will put an additional burden on the victim. The accused may use all his influence to pressurise her for a compromise,” the bench said.
The court also noted that in the wake of increasing crimes against women,the proviso to section 376(2) of IPC has been deleted by the legislature through the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act,2013.