‘Evidence should be such which should at least indicate grave suspicion. Mere likelihood of suspicion cannot be the reason to charge a person for an offence.’
The Supreme Court has discharged the gynaecologist, paediatrician and the hospital administrative who were arrayed as accused in the Kottiyoor rape case.
The main accused in the case is a church priest. As per the complaint, when the victim started complaining about pain in her stomach, thinking it to be some problem related to stomach, she was brought to the hospital where the accused doctors were working. As it was found that the victim was in an advanced stage of pregnancy, she was rushed to labour where she delivered the child.
The allegations against Dr Tessy Jose and others were that they had the knowledge that an offence under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act had been committed and they were required to provide this information to the relevant authorities which they failed to do.
They were charged under Sections 19(1) of the POCSO Act. The said provision puts a legal obligation on a person to inform the relevant authorities, inter alia, when he/she has knowledge that an offence under the Act had been committed.
As their plea seeking to quash the criminal case as against them was rejected by the Kerala High Court, they had approached the apex court through Advocate Raghent Basant.
The bench of Justice AK Sikri and Justice Ashok Bhushan had allowed the appeal vide a ‘reasons to follow’ order on 1st August 2018.
The bench, in its judgment, noted that the prosecution has no case that these accused had any knowledge about the alleged rape of the victim. But, the prosecution argument was that, since when the victim was brought to the hospital, her age was recorded as 18 years and on that basis appellants could have gathered that at the time of conception she was less than 18 years and was, thus a minor and, therefore, the accused should have taken due care in finding as to how the victim became pregnant.
Observing that such an argument is too ‘farfetched’, the bench, referring to Section 19(1), observed: “The expression used is “knowledge” which means that some information received by such a person gives him/her knowledge about the commission of the crime. There is no obligation on this person to investigate and gather knowledge. If at all, the appellants were not careful enough to find the cause of pregnancy as the victim was only 18 years of age at the time of delivery. But that would not be translated into criminality.”
The bench, referring to AS Krishnan and Others v. State of Kerala, observed that the term ‘knowledge’ used in the provision means an awareness on the part of the person concerned indicating his state of mind.
Perusing the medical records, the bench observed: “The victim was admitted in the hospital at 9.15 am and she immediately went into labour and at 9.25 am she gave birth to a baby. Therefore, appellant no. 1 attended to the victim for the first time between 9.15 am and 9.25 am on 7th February, 2017. The medical records of the victim state that she was 18 years’ old as on 7th February 2017. Appellant no. 1 did not know that the victim was a minor when she had sexual intercourse.”
The bench also observed that the other doctor, who is a paediatrician, had no occasion to examine/treat the victim. The court also said, as a hospital administrator, it was not possible for her to be aware of the details of each patient.
“The knowledge requirement foisted on the appellants cannot be that they ought to have deduced from circumstances that an offence has been committed. Accordingly, we are of the view that there is no evidence to implicate the appellants. Evidence should be such which should at least indicate grave suspicion. Mere likelihood of suspicion cannot be the reason to charge a person for an offence,” observed the bench, quashing the criminal proceedings against them.