On the day that that Union Minister of State M J Akbar said that he would take “appropriate legal action” against the women journalists who have accused him of inappropriate behaviour, sexual harassment, and molestation, criminal lawyers The Indian Express spoke to said that a police complaint was the best option and that the women should not fear defamation suits.
Senior Advocate Rebecca John, who specialises in criminal law, referring to multiple allegations being made in the social media, backed the filing of police complaints. “…in some cases, the allegations border on full-fledged rape. There is no statute of limitation applying in these cases — and they can clearly access criminal law for that. Any case, where the period of imprisonment is above three years, there is no statute of limitation. So it really depends on the facts of every case and it depends on the willingness to take it forward….The best option is a police complaint,” she said.
She also pointed out that the complainants and lawyers providing legal help “should get out of looking at these cases from the delay angle”. “If you look at the history of sexual assault across the world, statistics will say that women always delay reporting. Because it is the nature of the crime,” she said.
Express Editorial | Mr Akbar must go
“Instant reporting does not necessarily make a witness credible. And just because the reporting has been delayed by a large number of years, it does not make the complainant not credible…There is a herd-like mentality (in sexual harassment cases) that if one person makes the first move, many stories tumble out. Because you feel empowered. Let’s not make them out to be liars, just because they have delayed.”
She also said that there is no need for corroborative evidence in cases of sexual assault to prove the crime and that the testimony of the woman will decide the final outcome of the trial. “The Supreme Court, in the last two decades, has been saying loud and clear, that the sole uncorroborated testimony of a woman survivor can become the basis of the conviction, provided her evidence is of sterling quality because there is no corroboration,” she said.
Advocate Prashant Mendiratta, who is representing the complainant in the alleged case of sexual harassment where R K Pachauri is facing trial, agreed that filing a criminal complaint is the fastest option to seek justice. “In our country, unfortunately, tort law has not developed that much. The victim could have filed a plaint for damages, for mental harassment. The victims can file a criminal complaint, which is the easiest and the quickest method in our country,” he said.
Mendiratta underlined that victims should be sensitised so they are not threatened by defamation. “Here, unfortunately, the complainants are using social media to declare someone as an accused instead of actually trying to punish him under the law. That is where the other side starts flipping over and says he will sue for damages,” he said.
“Victims are not coming forward because they don’t want to be entangled with legal issues. If somebody threatens that they will sue for defamation, it will demoralise more such victims from coming forward. The only way out is that the woman has to be sensitised that they should not worry about the legal aspects. That can be taken care of. The law on limitation is not strictly applicable to these.”