The Supreme Court has stayed a controversial Bombay High Court verdict, which acquitted a man found guilty of assault under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act on the grounds that he groped his victim over her clothes and there was no ‘skin to skin’ contact between them.
A bench headed by Chief Justice of India S A Bobde stayed the acquittal after Attorney General K K Venugopal brought the matter to the court’s notice and said it is ‘unprecedented’ and is likely to ‘set a dangerous precedent’.
The case dates back to February 2020 when a 39-year-old man in Nagpur had been charged for pressing the breasts of a minor. A trial court in Nagpur had sentenced the accused to three years’ imprisonment under section 8 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) and under section 354 IPC (assault or criminal force with intent to outrage a woman’s modesty). The man had appealed his conviction following which the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court acquitted the man ruling that ‘no direct physical contact — skin to skin with sexual intent, without penetration’ would not amount to ‘sexual assault’ under POCSO Act.
On Wednesday, the SC stayed the acquittal after the Attorney General brought the matter to the court’s notice. “It is a very disturbing conclusion,” the A-G told the bench. Urging the court to take suo motu notice, Venugopal said he will file a petition on Thursday. Allowing the A-G’s request, the court stayed the acquittal under Section 8 of POCSO Act and issued notice to the accused. Section 8 of the POCSO Act provides for a sentence of rigorous imprisonment of three to five years.
The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) had earlier asked the Maharashtra government to urgently appeal the High Court judgment. Courts should be very careful before passing judgements and they should not set wrong precedent.