The Delhi High Court said that Courts have to serve as a bastion of sensitivity and empathy while adjudicating cases of sexual assault.

The Court allowed a Petition challenging the order of the Trial Court that had declined the victim's request to preserve evidence, of CCTV footage and call record details. The Trial Court had dismissed the request citing inconsistency in the victim's statement regarding the date of the alleged incident.

The Court emphasized that in sexual assault cases, especially when the victim faces trauma, the courts must be mindful of the emotional and psychological state of the victim, recognizing the difficulty in providing precise details.

The Court noted that sensitivity is not selective but must be an inherent requirement at every stage of the judicial process, particularly in cases involving minors.

The Bench of Justice Swarana Kanta Sharma observed, “The FIRs in cases involving sexual assault and rape, committed upon minors, are not mere printed papers, but a trauma writ large, experienced by a living human being, which is difficult to be portrayed on a piece of paper”.

Advocate B.S. Rajesh Agrajit appeared for the Petitioner and Additional Public Prosecutor Satish Kumar appeared for the Respondent.

Under Sections 376, 376D and 34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) and Section 6 of the Protection of Children From Sexual Acts, 2012 (POCSO Act), an FIR was registered. The victim, aged 16, acquainted with the accused through Instagram, alleged that the accused, along with two others, entered her home, committed rape, and recorded a video. The impugned order dismissed the victim's application under Section 91 of Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 (CrPC), seeking the preservation of CCTV footage from 02.05.2023, and CDRs of the accused from January 2023 to May 2023.

The Court noted that since the incident was reported on May 29, 2023, there was no ground for seizing CCTV footage of May 2 2023 and preserving CDRs from January 2023 to May 2023. The Court noted that Section 91 of CrPC allows summons for producing documents or things necessary for investigation, inquiry, or trial. The Court reiterated that the right to invoke Section 91 is not limited to the court or police and can be exercised by victims, accused, or other stakeholders. The necessity and desirability of production depend on the stage of proceedings, and the accused's entitlement to seek orders under Section 91 arises during the defence stage.

The Bench noted that the medical records support the mental distress of the victim. Despite informing the Investigating Officer and the Trial Court, the Section 91 application was dismissed mechanically. The Court observed the petitioner's grievance was valid, emphasising the importance of considering the victim's documented mental distress while viewing the discrepancy in the incident date. The Court added, "Needless to say, in cases of sexual assault of minor victims, such as the present one, the extreme stressful situation and life- turning experience faced by a victim should not be dealt with in mechanical manner by the Courts".

Furthermore, in cases of sexual assault, the Bench emphasized the need for continuous sensitivity toward the emotional and psychological state of the victim, particularly when providing precise details may be challenging due to trauma. The Court observed that sensitivity is an inherent requirement throughout the judicial proceeding, especially in cases involving minors. The Bench highlighted the importance of understanding the trauma experienced by victims and the need for the courts to be supportive pillars that foster an environment of empathy and assurance, ensuring victims feel heard and validated throughout the legal process. The Court noted that such sensitivity is not restricted to specific stages of the trial but is a continuous obligation for all courts adjudicating sexual assault cases.

The Court emphasized that FIRs are not merely printed papers but represent the significant trauma experienced by a living human being, which is challenging to convey on paper. The Court emphasized the understandable mental and physical trauma faced by a 16-year-old girl allegedly raped by her brother-in-law and two others, who entered her house and recorded the incident. The Court stressed the need for courts to handle such cases with sensitivity, recognizing the extreme stress and life-altering experiences of the victims, particularly minors.

Additionally, the Court noted that the Trial Court had declined to preserve crucial evidence, including CCTV footage and Call Detail Records, in a sexual assault case. The Trial Court had based its decision on a perceived inconsistency in the victim's statement regarding the date of the incident.

The High Court noted that the Trial Court erred in its decision and criticized the Trial Court for not exercising sensitivity and empathy. The Court noted that dismissing the application to preserve evidence solely based on the initial discrepancy was unjust, as the victim had explained the reason for the inconsistency due to her mental state. The Bench emphasized the importance of preserving evidence, asserting that the Trial Court should have taken into account the victim's medical records and stressed the significance of evidence in cases of sexual assault for ensuring justice.

Accordingly, the Court allowed the Petition and set aside the impugned order.

Cause Title: Jaspreet Kaur v State Of NCT Of Delhi (2023:DHC:9278)

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