Sexual Harassment Case: Supreme Court appeals to courts to treat victims sensitively

Underlining that “courts must live up to their duty to treat the victims sensitively in all forms of sexual harassment and sexual assault cases”, the Supreme Court in a recent order held the Judicial Magistrate First Class in Gwalior. (JMFC) to order the police. Investigation into a complaint of sexual harassment filed by a female employee of the Lakshmibai National Institute of Physical Education against the former vice-chancellor of the institution.

A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and JB Pardiwala termed the failure of the police to register an FIR based on the woman’s complaint as “most unfortunate”. It also disagreed with the Madhya Pradesh High Court’s finding that the magistrate was not bound to direct the police to register an FIR as the expression “may” is used in the relevant provisions of the law.

“It is true that the use of the word “may” indicates that the magistrate has the discretion to direct the police to investigate or pursue the matter as a matter of the complaint. But this discretion was not exercised arbitrarily. and be guided by judicial reasoning,” the bench directed, adding that the investigation should be supervised by a woman officer, not below the rank of a superintendent of police nominated by the DIG of the area concerned.

The Supreme Court also issued important guidelines to be followed by the trial courts while dealing with such cases.

The Bench said, “It is the duty and responsibility of the trial court to deal with the aggrieved persons adequately before them…by allowing proceedings in camera, where appropriate…, by setting up a screen to ensure that Allow the aggrieved woman not to see the accused while testifying, or in the alternative, to instruct the accused to leave the room while the aggrieved woman’s testimony is being recorded…, To ensure that the counsel for the accused cross-examines the victim woman in a dignified manner and without asking unreasonable questions, especially regarding the sexual history of the victim woman… (and) to complete the cross-examination in one sitting, as far as possible.”

The woman had alleged that in March 2019, the then vice-chancellor “touched her inappropriately at the institute, to which she isolated herself and shouted at her”. After this, he complained to the local police station and the SP. With no action, he again approached JMFC, which sought a status report from the police. The report said that no crime incident has been detected.

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