The Delhi High Court on Wednesday acquitted a man accused of sexually assaulting his minor stepdaughter in 2014, overturning the trial court's conviction and life imprisonment sentence.

The Court said that since child witness is susceptible to tutoring, the court should seek corroborating evidence, especially when signs of tutoring are evident in such testimony.

The Division Bench of Justice Suresh Kumar Kait and Justice Manoj Jain highlighted various reasons for granting the accused the benefit of the doubt, particularly emphasizing the unreliable nature of the victim's testimony, who was 12 years old at the time of the alleged incident.

"In view of our foregoing discussion, there are multiple reasons which compel us to grant benefit of doubt to the accused. Testimony of ‘S’ does not inspire much confidence as in her cross-examination conducted subsequently, she has categorically claimed that she had earlier deposed at the behest of her grandmother who was fed up with the alcoholic nature of the accused. Secondly, cousin, mother and grandmother of ‘S’ have not supported the prosecution case," the Court said.

The Court underscored the vulnerability of child witnesses to coaching and exaggeration, making it unsafe to solely rely on their statements.

While acknowledging that a child's testimony can lead to convictions in cases of sexual assault, the Court stressed the importance of corroborating evidence, especially when signs of coaching are apparent.

"Indubitably, in cases of sexual assault, testimony of a child witness can form the basis of a conviction. However, a crucial pre-requisite is that it must not be on account of any tutoring. Since child witness is susceptible to tutoring, the court should seek corroborating evidence, especially when signs of tutoring are evident in such testimony. A child has not enough of maturity and if tutored, such child can go to any extent of exaggeration and, therefore, it becomes unsafe to rely upon testimony of a child witness whose statement is found to be based on tutoring," the Bench said.

The court noted that the accused had already spent over six years in custody, further pointing out inconsistencies in the prosecution's case. It highlighted the lack of support from the alleged victim's family members, including her cousin, mother, and grandmother, as well as the inconclusive DNA report.

Additionally, the court questioned the victim's frequent visits to the accused in jail, suggesting that such behavior contradicted the prosecution's claims. It speculated that the victim's maternal grandmother might have influenced her testimony out of frustration with the accused's alcoholism, leading to a false accusation.

"We also cannot be unmindful of the fact that despite the fact that ‘S’ had been sexually assaulted as alleged by the prosecution, she kept on visiting accused frequently in the jail which has also not been explained by the prosecution. If at all such act had been committed by the accused, she would not have dared to visit her stepfather repeatedly in the jail," the Court said.

The Court condemned the grandmother's actions, deeming her plot to imprison the accused as dangerously misguided. It also emphasized that she had no authority to coach her granddaughter into fabricating allegations of sexual assault.

Thus, the Bench ordered, "Accused Manvir @ Manish accordingly stands acquitted of all the charges. He be set at liberty forthwith, if not required in any other case."


Petitioner: Advocates Anwesh Madhukar (DHCLSC), Prachi Nirwan, Devesh Khanagwal

Respondent: APP Manjeet Arya

Cause Title: Manvir @ Manish v. State [CRL.A. 1056/2019]

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