Compromise between accused and victim no ground for lighter sentence in rape cases; Baldev Singh overruled
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Compromise between accused and victim no ground for lighter sentence in rape cases; Baldev Singh overruled

Murali Krishnan

The Supreme Court in a landmark judgment yesterday ruled that a compromise between an accused and the rape victim cannot be a ground for reduction of sentence under the proviso to Section 376(2) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

The judgment was delivered by a 3-judge Bench comprising of Chief Justice P Sathasivam along with Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Ranjana Prakash Desai in an appeal [Shimbu and Anr. v. State of Haryana, Crl. (A) 1278-1279/2013] filed against the decision of the Punjab and Haryana High Court (High Court). The judgment arose after the appellants, convicted of committing rape and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment, approached the Supreme Court.

In the process, the Court also overruled the decision of the Division Bench of the Supreme Court in Baldev Singh and Ors. v. State of Punjab, [2011 (13) SCC 705].

Advocate Rishi Malhotra, who represented the appellants, prayed for a reduction of sentence to the period of imprisonment already undergone on the ground that a settlement was arrived at between the accused and the victim and that it was a fit case for the Court to exercise its discretion under proviso to Section 376(2) and reduce the sentence. However, relying on a catena of previous decisions, the Court held that,

“A compromise entered into between the parties cannot be construed as a leading factor based on which lesser punishment can be awarded. Rape is a non compoundable offence and it is an offence against the society and is not a matter to be left for the parties to compromise and settle. Since the Court cannot always be assured that the consent given by the victim in compromising the case is a genuine consent, there is every chance that she might have been pressurized by the convicts or the trauma undergone by her all the years might have compelled her to opt for a compromise.. ……So, in the interest of justice and to avoid unnecessary pressure/harassment to the victim, it would not be safe in considering the compromise arrived at between the parties in rape cases to be a ground for the Court to exercise the discretionary power under the proviso of Section 376(2) of IPC.”

Regarding the issue of “special factors” to be taken into account the Court also summarised the law to the effect that the,

“Punishment should always be proportionate/commensurate to the gravity of offence. Religion, race, caste, economic or social status of the accused or victim or the long pendency of the criminal trial or offer of the rapist to marry the victim or the victim is married and settled in life cannot be construed as special factors for reducing the sentence prescribed by the statute. The power under the proviso should not be used indiscriminately in a routine, casual and cavalier manner for the reason that an exception clause requires strict interpretation”.

Another significant outcome of this judgment would be that the decision rendered by a Division Bench headed by Justice Markandey Katju in Baldev Singh (supra) would no longer be a precedent as the Court held that,

“In the light of series of decisions, taking contrary view, we hold that the said decision in Baldev Singh [] cannot be cited as a precedent and it should be confined to that case”.

The Court also cautioned the subordinate courts and High Courts not to take a lenient view while awarding sentence for heinous crimes like rape, and stressed upon the need for “proportionate punishment to be imposed in such cases”.

Recently in another case of gang rape, the Supreme Court while directing the Madhya Pradesh government to pay Rs. 10 lakhs as compensation to 2 gang rape victims had come down upon the government for disclosing the names of the victims in an affidavit filed by the government.

It is to be noted that the proviso to Section 376(2) of IPC was deleted by the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, in the light of the recommendations made by Justice Verma Committee.

You can read the full text of the judgment below.

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