Friday, December 09, 2016

Govindaswamy v. State of Kerala (Soumya Rape Case) – Analysis in the Light of Recent Controversies (Part II)

Guest Post by Akshita Jha

In continuance of the Part I on the analysis of this judgment, this part constitutes of the criticism of the judgment and its analysis in the light of the rights of the accused and the responsibility of the Supreme Court in safeguarding them. This part also highlights the importance of literal interpretation of medical reports in light of settled precedents.

The Other Perspective              
On factual and moralistic standards, the opinion of the Supreme Court has been questioned by some of the media houses, Women Rights Activists, Justice Katju among others. They have questioned the stance of the SC urging to take into account the plight of the victim. Katju has also legally challenged the judgment by remarking that there are 4 sub sections in S 300, the satisfaction of any of which, is enough to prove the offence of murder and just because the intention of the accused was to make victim weak and supine, does not mean he never intended to kill her.

These arguments do hold a good value as far as the idealistic punishments for people like Govindaswamy, who caused the victim so many injuries, raped her, robbed her and abandoned her to die, exist. The Delhi Rape Case can be held as a good example for the injuries that are sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death. The standards of punishment should be strictly interpreted against the accused when the victim is not able to survive after rape, and since after the Delhi Rape Case, such incidents have been on a rise, where the accused causes gruesome injuries to the victims, the Supreme Court should award the strictest of the punishment to the accused in order to set a deterrent for the society and such minded people.

Moreover, the simple chronology of the death of the victim, 3 days after getting brutally raped and injured by the accused point towards the role of accused, though minimal in causing the death of the victim. In such circumstances, the prerogative of the apex court should be to provide a good deterrent to the society.

Very clearly, the latter group of arguments is from a socio-legal and factual perspective. Apart from the legal challenge put forth by Justice Katju, which can be rebutted by the above given analysis of all the sub-parts of S 300 and the act does not fall in any of them, other arguments are resting on the sensitivity of the victim and they fail to accommodate the rights of the accused.

 The judiciary, right from the famous case of Virsa Singh v State of Punjab 1958 AIR 465 has relied literally on the medical reports to adjudicate the actus reus of the accused and this reliance has been time and again criticized. However, the Courts’ argument has rested upon its duty safeguard the interest of the accused (S 227, CrPC) from any gross violations of justice that can be caused to him. This job specifically becomes tougher in the cases of death penalty, since the award is punished in the ‘rarest of the rare’ cases, the court has a duty to satisfy itself that the particular case does and the accused is not being killed for a crime which he did not even commit. The Court made a distinction between causing grievous hurt and consequential death and causing death with an intention to do so under S 300. The bench relied gave preference to the precise medical report over the actual plight suffered by the victim.

The reasoning for such analysis can be attributed to the theory of legal causation and can be traced back to Virsa Singh again. In this case, it was opined by the apex court that the medical reports also can be open to interpretation, if not taken literally and made subject to analysis. One judge may find the nature of the injuries sufficient to cause death and the other might not. To avoid this ambiguity, the court took the reports as they were and this practice started a valid precedent. Moreover, the court also differentiated in factual and legal causation. A person could be liable for factually causing a wrong, however, if the acts of the wrongdoer are not contrary to any legal principals or is not a substantive reason for the commission of the crime, the benefit of the doubt is generally given to the accused.

In Soumya case, the victim indeed died of the cumulative effect of the bodily injuries and the forced sexual intercourse caused by the accused. However, to ascertain that these particular injuries were caused by the accused, the prosecution had to show the “mens rea” for causing death and separate it from “mens rea” of committing rape, which due to the lack of evidence and problems with the admissibility, it could not. Thus, in this scenario, some doubt arose as to the culpability of the accused and hence the benefit of the doubt was provided to him.

However, in these circumstances and peculiarity of the facts of the case, terming it as a “wrong judgment” is not the right thing to do. The critiques should look into the legal aspect of the entire situation, the powers and the limits of the apex court and the rules the court is bound to follow.  Katju’s argument on “common sense” of the court and the idealistic arguments on the death of the victim are very non-legal and do not stand against the established legal practices and settled precedents in Criminal Law.

Thus, in my opinion, the SC has portrayed itself to be as much of the accused as of the victim. It has adjudicated the case on simple balance of probabilities and in accordance with the strict principles of law, which in the socio-legal scenario that followed the incident has been a herculean task.

Moreover, internationally as well as within India, capital punishment is being highly discouraged. And amidst all the controversies, passing this judgment has reinstated the balance between the rights of both the parties in the eyes of law.

Therefore, this decision of the Supreme Court will go down the books as a classic example of literal interpretation of the statute while acknowledging and safeguarding the rights of the accused, in a socio—legal context and amidst the rage of the society against the judgment, where deterrence needs to be established for such crimes of rape and causing grievous bodily injury.

(The author is a second year student at the National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata. Part I can be accessed here.)

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