HC unhappy over SOP non-compliance in evidence collection in sexual offence cases

The court directed the state government to organise periodic sensitisation programmes of all the stakeholders.

Mumbai: The Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court has expressed displeasure over non-compliance with the SOP laid down for the collection and preservation of evidence, both biological and non-biological, in serious cases pertaining to sexual offences.

A division bench of Justices Vibha Kankanwadi and Abhay Waghwase in its judgement on Tuesday said time and again the police machinery and forensic experts have shown “utter disregard” for compliance with the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to be adopted during the collection of biological and non-biological evidence and its preservation to avoid degradation.

“This reflects a very insensitive attitude by all stakeholders like medical experts, police machinery etc,” it said.

MS Education Academy

The HC quashed an order passed by a special court in Maharashtra’s Parbhani district, convicting a 21-year-old man for allegedly raping a six-year-old girl in 2018.

The court also set aside the life sentence imposed on the man, noting the prosecution had failed to prove the case against him beyond reasonable doubt and hence it was constrained to extend the benefit of doubt to him.

The collection and safe preservation of evidence in the present case has come under serious doubt, it said.

“We take the opportunity to bring to the notice of the state as well as prosecution that all stakeholders like police, medical experts, forensic experts and even prosecutors to be sensitive to the need of proper collection, sampling, preservation and safe custody to rule out possibility of diminishing and/or degrading the quality of evidence,” the HC said.

Such authorities need to keep themselves well informed and updated on guidelines issued by the health and home ministries of the government of India, it said.

“We expect periodic sensitisation of all stakeholders by conducting regular workshops and seminars of all such stakeholders at one venue and at the same time. Such platform could be used for interactions amongst themselves to meet the legal requirements,” the HC said.

The court directed the state government to organise periodic sensitisation programmes of all the stakeholders.

The prosecution’s case is that in November 2018, the accused man accosted the victim while she was returning home and took her to an abandoned building nearby where he allegedly raped her.

The girl went home and informed about the incident to her father who later lodged a complaint.

The police, after carrying out a probe into the incident, arrested the man.

The man in his appeal claimed he was implicated in the case. He said the girl had given vague identification of the alleged perpetrator and he was arrested only based on suspicion.

He also claimed there were lapses and deviations by medical experts, police machinery and forensic experts while collecting evidence in the case, thus rendering the same doubtful.

The bench in its order noted there was non-compliance with the SOP laid down by the government for collection, maintenance and safe custody of both, biological and non-biological evidence gathered during investigation.

“Such are the sorry state of affairs in handling muddemal (articles seized by police during probe) in a serious case of rape on a minor,” the court said.

Due to all these reasons, though a serious offence has been committed on a minor, the major lapses and defects have rendered the entire evidence doubtful and so cannot be made the basis of conviction, it said.

The bench noted that guidelines issued by the central forensic department, home and health ministries of the central government on the issue are meant to be followed by government as well as private hospitals.

However, in the present case, neither the medical experts nor the investigating machinery have taken due care to follow the guidelines, the HC said.

“Their failure affects the credibility of the prosecution’s evidence,” it said, adding the collection and safe preservation of evidence in the present case has come under serious doubt.

The bench directed the state government to formulate suitable guidelines to be adhered to while conducting test identification (TI) parade in cases pertaining to the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.

“…and to further suggest Standard Operating Procedure to be adopted, keeping in mind the aspect of confidentiality of details of victim and also suggest necessary precautionary measures to be taken while making victim participate in TI parade for identifying perpetrator, with requisite infrastructural set up for the same,” the HC said.

The high court also noted that the compensation amount of Rs 46,000 directed to be paid to the victim by the special court was “meagre and inadequate” as she has suffered mental and physical pain, agony and trauma.

The court directed the Parbhani District Legal Services Authority to conduct an enquiry of the victim’s status and if she has received any compensation from the state government.

If not, then the authority shall suggest to the government to take appropriate steps required for meaningful rehabilitation.

Back to top button