In a 2013 opinion piece, Professor Pratiksha Baxi wrote about the injustice that victims of sexual assault have historically suffered at the hands of the criminal process in India, reminding us that even those cases which forced our laws to change were stories of sexual assaults never proven before the eyes of law. That opinion piece was written in the wake of allegations in the case registered as State v. Tarun Tejpal, where on 21.05.2021, the Court of the Additional Sessions Judge at Panaji acquitted the accused on all charges, i.e. for alleged commission of offences under 376(2)(f), 376(2)(k), 354, 354A, 354B, 341, and 342 of the Indian Penal Code 1860.
The judgment has been critiqued on the court’s consideration of the victim’s testimony [see, for instance, here, here and here]. It appears that an appeal has been filed by the state challenging the acquittal, where the High Court has initially directed that sections of the judgment ought to be redacted as they reveal the identity of the victim.
This post does not attempt a microscopic review of the merits of the case, not only because an appeal is pending, but also because the judgment does not give a clear conspectus of the entire evidence on record to allow for such an exercise. Instead, while making some broad observations on the judgment (to the extent possible based on the evidence extracted) it brings up three issues that the judgment throws into sharp relief: (i) appreciating evidence, with a focus on witness credibility and the handling of inadmissible evidence at trial; (ii) consideration of digital evidence from victims in sexual assault cases, and; (iii) consequences of “bad” orders on the system itself.