“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. – Martin Luther King II
A nation with a strong and reliable legal system is what its citizens look upto. A system that can provide them the justice that they are seeking for and that they deserve is what the people expects from the judiciary. Judiciary, in addition to being a co-equal branch of the government along with legislature and executive, holds a very important position in the nation and in the lives of its citizens, the position of the beholder of justice. The courts not merely play the role of adjudicating the disputes between the parties, but also to protect the rights and liberty of the individuals, thereby deepening the faith of the people in the judicial system. But this faith faces a sense of doubt when a flare of injustice is seen rising igniting a threat to justice. This is what happens in the case of gross miscarriage of justice.
Miscarriages of justice refer to a situation of failure of justice system, that is, when the judicial system fails in its capacity to provide justice to the seeker. It’s an unjust outcome of a case leading to the errors, generally referred to as ‘error of impunity’-a failure to hold the culpable person guilty. These errors being a threat to the justice system, it is very important to pay full attention to such miscarriages and analyse in order to discover the road from where it all went wrong, followed by a period of reflection and the step to correct it to restore the faith in justice.
One such miscarriage of justice was discovered by the High Court of Andhra Pradesh in a case of sexual harassment attracting the provision of the POSCO act, when the Additional District judge and the Sessions Judge haphazardly arrived at an erroneous conclusion by holding that the facts of the case do not attract the provisions of the POSCO act. The judge of the special courts was held to be under gross error with total non-application of mind by stating the wrong facts and thereby erroneously holding the criminals not liable under the POSCO act. But the High Court of Andhra Pradesh took cognizance of the matter without much delay and holding the pillar of justice by accepting such miscarriage of justice, clearly stated the scope of the POSCO act thereby holding the criminals liable under the same.
BACKGROUND OF THE CASE: ERROR BY THE SPECIAL COURT
“It is a most pathetic case where a victim girl who has entered the precincts of the University with a fond hope on her bright future has ended her life by committing suicide on account of the alleged sexual assault and sexual harassment to which she was subjected in the hands of the accused.”[i] The victim was a girl who got herself enrolled in Acharya Nagarjuna University in Guntur District in 2014 and joined first year course of Architecture. There were 3 accused in the case who were the seniors of the girl and were from the same college and started humiliating and harassing the victim girl. The girl was subjected to persistent humiliation by the three accused as they tried to maintain sexual relations with her and on being rejected used to spread rumours about her character and tried to indulge in acts of ragging towards her. This made girl suffer severe agony and emotional turmoil on account of the sexually indecent behaviour of the accused and when the principal of the university paid a deaf ear to her condition, she committed suicide in her hostel room in July 2015.
The charge sheet was filed against the accused for offences punishable under Sections 354, 354(A)(2), 354(D)(2), 306 and 109 of IPC and under Sections 4(i) and (v) and 7(1) and 2) of the Andhra Pradesh Prohibition of Ragging Act, 1997 and under Sections 8 and 12 of the POCSO Act. But when it was presented before the Special POSCO Court, the judge found a fault in filing the charge sheet against the accused under POSCO act on the grounds of the girl being a major at the time of suicide and also stated that no complain was lodged about sexual harassment when she was a minor. Hence it was held even by the Additional District and Session Judge that the present case does not attract the provisions of punishment under the POSCO act and refused to take cognizance of the same.
Aggrieved by the erroneous judgement of the Special Court and their failure in the wrong application of facts and the POSCO act, the father of the victim approached the Andhra Pradesh High court challenging the order passed by the lower court.
ERROR RECTIFICATION: ANDHRA PRADESH HIGH COURT
The Andhra Pradesh High Court finally took cognizance of the current case and went back on the examination of the facts. It was submitted by the opposite counsel that the current case does not attract the provisions of penalty under the POSCO act because the objective of the act is to protect the dignity of the children below 18 years while the victim girl was an adult when the suicide was committed. Also there were no records of the complaints filed against the accused about the sexual harassment and sexual assault towards the girl in her minor years, during her life time or by any other on her behalf. Hence, it was contended that the accused are not to be held liable under section 7 and 11 of the POSCO act. But the High Court rejected the contentions made by the opposite counsel and upheld the justice for the victim by clearly explaining the scope and the objective of the POSCO act.
The court stated that when the POSCO act was established, the main objective behind the act was to preserve the ‘best interest and the well-being’ of the child and to hold the emotional, healthy, physical, intellectual and social development of a child as of paramount importance and respect the child’s right to privacy and confidentiality. Accordingly section 2(d) also defines child to be someone below the age of 18 years.
Thus, in the present case, though the victim became major when the suicide was committed and though there were no complaints lodged by the victim during her minority age, the fact that the victim suffered sexual harassment and humiliation since the time of her being a minor, when she took admission into the college, cannot be ignored. The acts of the accused of sexually harassing the victim were initiated in the years of her minority from the time of her starting of the first year and continued till and even after her age of majority until it finally led to her death. This view was finally held by the Andhra Pradesh High Court.
The court held that the decision of the lower court to decline the acknowledgement of the charges against the accused under the POSCO act led to ‘the defeat of the very object of the enactment of the act’. The High Court accepting the gross error committed by the lower court, criticized the court for completely losing sight of the fact that when the acts of the sexual assault and sexual harassment were committed by the accused, punishable under section 7 and section 11 respectively, the girl was still a minor, which cannot be ignored at all. Hence, the case, prima facie, attracts the provisions of the POSCO act.
Thus, such a gross miscarriage of the justice committed by the court in this case due to the non-application of their mind and the facts was finally observed by the High Court and accordingly, to prevent the miscarriage to prevail in the society and pose a threat to justice, the injustice meted out to the victim was undone by passing the following landmark decree.
“… when facts of the case prima facie constitute an offence under the POCSO Act, the Special Court is under legal obligation to take the charge-sheet on to the file and take cognizance of the case against them and try the accused according to law. It cannot abrogate its lawful duty and refuse to take the case on to the file and defeat the very object of the Act and the purpose of establishing the Special Court.”[ii]
This case establishes to be a good example of how miscarriage of justices be prevented to emerge as a threat to the justice system and also to the faith of the people in this legal system. It would not be reasonable to expect a judicial system completely sanitized from the wrongs or errors. Errors of impunity and miscarriage of justice are bound to happen in a system that relies on the human deduction and human analysis. But what is important is to continue to uphold the pillar of justice and the faith of the people in this system by continuously trying to correct such errors and heal such miscarriages. The judicial system should not forget its role in the society and hence should take proper cognizance of the matter to identify the error and correct it before any haphazardly handled case shakes the faith of the people and emerges as a threat to ‘Justice’.
[i] Hon. Sri Justice Cheekati Manavendranath Roy, Mondi Murli Krishna v. The State and Anr., pg 2
[ii] Rintu Mariam Biju, “POCSO Act will apply even after victim attains majority if the sexual offence was committed when s/he was a minor: Andhra Pradesh High Court” https://www.barandbench.com/news/litigation/pocso-act-will-apply-even-after-victim-attains-majority-if-the-sexual-offence-was-committed-when-she-was-a-minor-andhra-pradesh-high-court
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