The Justice J.S. Verma Committee report on amendments to criminal law includes many of the ideas of the recommendations submitted by ORF, in association with Hammurabi and Soloman, a law firm.
In the wake of the tragic incident of the gang-rape of a young medical student in a private transport bus in Delhi and her consequent death in December and the following public protests, the Government of India instituted a three-member Justice J.S. Verma Committee to suggest amendments to Criminal Law that would ensure speedier justice in cases of sexual assault. The Committee invited proposals from the general public and ORF made the following recommendations in this regard.
ORF suggested the creation of Fast Track Sessions Courts (“FTCs”) by the High Courts and the institution of Gender Justice Departments within the Supreme Court that would monitor rape cases, redistribute cases and create more FTCs if required. It was also suggested that Retired Sessions Judges be appointed as FTC judges in case there is a shortage of judges. It further suggested the fixation of a minimum number of daily substantive hearings, minimisation of adjournments and a total of 15 working days within which a trial is to be completed. It was also suggested that delays in passing judgments should attract pecuniary punishment and a committee of Union Ministers must review the cases once every month. It also suggested that the Database on Crime against Women and Convicted Criminals should be put online for monitoring by concerned agencies.
The Justice Verma Committee has incorporated the idea of the Court being used as an oversight mechanism, and of reviews and reports by such a mechanism, in context of sexual abuse of destitutes. In Para 42 on Page 223, the Report states:
“We also need to have an oversight mechanism and the Court appears to be that oversight mechanism. It must be a function of the High Court, through an inspecting judge, to five weekly reports on the conditions in relation to each of the custody homes and matters, particularly relating to sexual abuse of inmates.”
The idea of appointing retired judges has also been incorporated, though not for FTCs but for disposing of pending cases (Page 124, Para 15). In either case, the effect is of expediting judicial proceedings and the goal of speedy justice will be met.
Enhanced punishment in case of sexual assault of extreme nature
ORF suggested that there be a gradation of the offence of rape on the basis of the brutality of the actions and the more brutal the action, the more severe be the punishment. The most animalistic behaviour as well as rape of minors and disabled women be punished with chemical castration or even death penalty, while cases where consent though obtained, is fraudulent, be punished differently.
ORF’s concern about stringent punishment has been reflected in the Report where it deals with Sentencing and Punishment (Chapter Nine, Page 234) in the following words:
“Over the years courts in India have consistently held that sexual offences ought to be dealt with sternly and severely as undue sympathy to impose inadequate sentence would do more harm to the system and undermine public confidence in the efficacy of law.”
On Page 246, Para 25, the Justice Verma Committee also proposed the gradation of the various kinds of rape offences. However, it does so on the basis of harm caused to the victim. In cases of rape resulting in death or persistent vegetative state, the minimum punishment should be life imprisonment.
The Committee specifically rejected the death penalty for rape as not having a deterrent effect (Page 250, Para 37) and chemical castration as being unconstitutional (Page 252, Para 40) and failing to treat the social foundations of rape which is about power and sexually deviant behaviour (Page 253, Para 42).
The Committee has dealt specifically with Child Sexual Abuse in Chapter 12 of its Report, but rather than enhanced punishment it has focussed on social education and responsible parenting.
Certainty of punishment
To ensure certainty in punishment, ORF suggested the creation of a national Hot Pursuit Squad involving the State Governments and Civil Magistracy that would monitor rape cases. It also suggested that the Government make public the names of offenders for the purpose of naming and shaming.
While a national level pursuit squad has not found place in the Report, the Justice Verma Committee has recommended online filing of FIRs from any part of the country and registration of FIRs at any police station anywhere in the country (Page 332, Para 13(c)).
Amendment to Ss. 375 and 376, IPC
ORF suggested amendment of Ss. 375 and 376 of the Indian Penal Code to do away with discrepancies of age and have a common threshold of 18years as the age of consent, to include chemical castration and death penalty as punishment for repeated offences and imprisonment extending to life term in cases of aggravated offences (Ss. 376A to 376D).
The Committee has incorporated the proposal for life imprisonment but not for chemical castration. It has however recommended life imprisonment as the maximum penalty for term sentences rather than the minimum. Also, the minimum has been increased to ten years from seven (Page 238, Para 12). Further, it has also been recommended that life imprisonment must always mean “imprisonment for the ‘entire natural life of the convict'”. (Page 239, Para 15).
Amendment to Marriage Laws
ORF proposed the doing away of any exception on any grounds to 18 years as the minimum age of marriage for women. It also suggested that no exception be made in punishment for marital rapes.
The second half of this suggestion, with respect to punishment for marital rape, has been incorporated by the Justice Verma Committee on Page 117 in Para 79, wherein it is stated that:
“The exception for marital rape be removed .
….. The fact that the accused and the victim are married or in another intimate relationship may not be regarded as a mitigating factor justifying lower sentences for rape.”
Attempt to Rape/Eve Teasing/Verbal Threats
ORF suggested that eve teasing and attempt to rape be dealt with in the same manner as attempt to murder and be punishable with ten years’ imprisonment and fine.
On page 111 of their report, the Justice Verma Committee incorporated this suggestion stating that:
“There should be a criminal prohibition of other non-penetrative forms of sexual assault, which is currently not found in the IPC, aside from inappropriate references to ‘outraging the modesty’ of women. . .”
Further, in Para 69, the Committee stated:
“An offence of sexual assault should be introduced to include all forms of non-consensual non-penetrative touching of a sexual nature. . . Courts will examine the part of the body touched, the nature of the contact, the situation in which it occurred, the words and gestures accompanying the act, threats, intent of the accused and any other relevant circumstances.”
Eve Teasing has also specifically been dealt with in Part I of Chapter Five of the Report, titled “Other Offences against Women”. On Page 146 the Committee recommends the insertion of provisions in the IPC to criminalise the act of eve teasing.
(This report is prepared by Protiti Roy, Research Intern, Observer Research Foundation)