The Supreme Court has said that courts must carefully examine the evidence of a rape victim to ascertain its trustworthiness as it alone was sufficient to convict a rape accused and sentence him to life imprisonment.
Holding that the rape victim’s evidence is placed on such a high pedestal that it alone was sufficient to arrive at the conviction of an accused, a bench of Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai and Justice J Chelameswar said: “… it is the duty of the court to scrutinize it carefully, because in a given case on that lone evidence a man can be sentenced to life imprisonment”.
“The court must, therefore, with its rich experience evaluate such evidence with care and circumspection and only after its conscience is satisfied about its creditworthiness rely upon it” said Justice Desai in a judgment on Friday.
Pointing to weightage that is given to evidence by rape victim, the court said: “In a case involving charge of rape, the evidence of the prosecutrix is most vital. If it is found credible; if it inspires total confidence, it can be relied upon even sans corroboration.”
The court concerned may, however, if it is hesitant to place implicit reliance on this, look into other evidence to lend assurance to it short of corroboration required in the case of an accomplice, the judgment said.
“Such weight is given to the prosecutrix’s evidence because her evidence is on par with the evidence of an injured witness which seldom fails to inspire confidence,” the court said.
The apex court said this while setting aside a judgment of the Punjab and Haryana high court upholding a trial court order convicting Hem Raj for rape of his neighbour in 1999.
Hem Raj was convicted by the additional sessions judge, Faridabad on Aug 3, 2001, on charges of rape and trespassing for committing an offence and sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for seven years and two years respectively which were to run concurrently.
Pointing to the conflicting versions in the alleged rape victim’s statements including the retraction of the allegation of rape and admission that as neighbours, they knew each other and she even wrote letters to Hem Raj, the apex court said: “It would be extremely dangerous to rely on such evidence … Our conscience would not permit us to rely on such evidence. It would be hazardous to confirm the conviction on the prosecutrix’s sole testimony.”
Referring to the evidence produced by the prosecution, the court noted that prosecution failed to examine Dr. Anjali Shah who had medically examined the alleged victim.
Describing it as a “serious lapse” on the part of the prosecution, the court said: “We are aware that lapses on the part of the prosecution should not lead to unmerited acquittals.
“This is, however, subject to the rider that in such a situation the evidence on record must be clinching so that the lapses of the prosecution could be condoned.”