Accused Has No Caste Or Religion When Court Deals With His Case: SC Amends Cause Title, Forbids Lower Courts From Mentioning Caste Or Religion In Cause Title
The Supreme Court observed that an accused has no caste or religion when the court deals with the case. The Court emphasized that such information should not be included in the cause title of judgments, and this practice needs to be discontinued.
In this case, the main issue was the enhancement of the sentence for the respondent-accused, who was convicted for multiple offenses including rape and sexual assault on a young girl. The Trial Court convicted the respondent–accused for the offences punishable under Sections 363, 342, clauses (i) and (m) of subsection (2) of Section 376 of the IPC read with Sections 3,4,8 and 10 of the POCSO. The High Court, while confirming the conviction, reduced the sentence for the rape charges from life imprisonment to twelve years.
A two judge Bench of Justice Abhay S. Oka and Justice Pankaj Mithal held that, “An accused has no caste or religion when the Court deals with his case. We fail to understand why the caste of the accused has been mentioned in the cause title of the judgments of the High Court and the Trial Court. The caste or religion of a litigant should never be mentioned in the cause title of the judgment. We have already observed in our order dated 14th March 2023 that such practice should never be followed.”
Senior Advocate Manish Singhvi appeared for the Appellant and Advocate Shweta Garg appointed as Amicus Curiae for the Respondent.
The issue before the Court was whether the reduced sentence imposed by the High Court was appropriate, considering the severity of the crime and the time the accused has already spent in prison.
The Court acknowledged that, “The rights of the accused must be balanced with the effect of the crime on the victim and her family. This is a case which impacts the society. If undue leniency is shown to the respondent in the facts of the case, it will undermine the common man's confidence in the justice delivery system. The punishment must be commensurate with the gravity of the offence. When it comes to sentencing, the Court is not only concerned with the accused but the crime as well.” However, the Court said, “Only two factors prevent us from restoring the life sentence. First is the young age of the accused. His age was 22 years, as noted by the High Court. The second is that he has undergone the sentence imposed by the High Court. Therefore, we are of the view that in this case, the sentence of rigorous imprisonment of fourteen years will be appropriate. However, while he undergoes the remaining sentence, the respondent shall not be entitled to remission.”
The Court maintained the default sentence of six months imprisonment for the unpaid fine of Rs.25,000/-. They proposed retaining Rs.5,000/- for the State and ensuring the rest of the fine amount is paid to the victim as compensation. Additionally, the Court directed the Secretary of the Rajasthan State Legal Services Authority to ensure the victim receives compensation under the state's victim compensation scheme.
The Court noted, “we find from the cause title of the judgments of the Trial Court and the High Court that the respondent’s caste has been mentioned. The same defect has been carried forward in the Special Leave Petition as the description of the respondent–accused must have been copied from the cause title of the judgments of the Courts.”
The Court further made a suggestion regarding counseling for child victims of sexual assault. It emphasized the need for a support system, not just monetary compensation, to help victims lead a better life. The Court proposed integrating the rehabilitation of girl victims into government welfare campaigns like "Beti Bachao Beti Padhao."
The Court partly allowed the appeal, specifying the sentence and conditions for the accused, emphasizing the denial of remission during the enhanced sentence. It directed the Secretary of the Ministry of Women and Child Development of the Central Government to take appropriate action in terms of the suggested rehabilitation program.
Cause Title: State of Rajasthan v. Gautam, [2023 INSC 903]