Landmark HC order puts two women judges in charge of rape acquittals

In the wake of a spate of brutal attacks on women in the country, Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court ordered that, with effect from this Monday, all appeals against acquittal of rapists will be heard by a bench of two female judges.

Justice Sadhana Jadhav and Justice VK Tahilramani
Justice Sadhana Jadhav and Justice VK Tahilramani. Illustration/Amit Bandre

When a lower court acquits a rape accused, the acquittal can be challenged in the HC. The division bench of Justices Vijaya K Tahilramani and Sadhana S Jadhav will hear appeals from all years. The bench has already assigned conviction appeals where at least one of the convicts is a woman who is in jail.

The order modifies the current sitting list and states that the bench will hear “all appeals against acquittal, irrespective of the year, where the accused was/were charged for the offence/s punishable under Section 376 r/w [read with] or w/o [without] 302 and/or Section 363, and/or 366 of the IPC or any other section.” This means that the bench will hear cases of rape, rape-and-murder, rape-and-kidnap, cases of kidnap with intent to compel a woman to marry a person against her will, or cases where a woman is forced into illicit intercourse.

In safe hands
Justice VK Tahilramani was elevated in 2001. She started practicing as a lawyer in the Bombay High Court and City Civil and Sessions Court. She had also done a stint as a lecturer, teaching Law of Crimes in KC Law College. She had been on the panel of Defence Lawyers with the Sessions Court, and later became a Government Pleader and Additional Public Prosecutor. One of Justice Tahilramani’s landmark rulings was in 2010, when she decided that watching pornography in a bungalow during a private party did not amount to ‘public exhibition’, and was therefore not ‘obscenity’.

Justice Sadhana Jadhav is a former Additional Public Prosecutor and was elevated to the bench on January 23 last year. She was born and raised in Solapur and holds an MA in Political Science and Public Administration from Pune University. She started her practice at the Aurangabad Bench of the Bombay High Court, practicing mainly on the criminal side.

Generally, acquittals are rarely overturned, even though the state appeals against them as a matter of procedure. But the court may order things such as enhancement of compensation for victims, or further investigations
— Pooja Bhojne, advocate

It is a good decision. Most such cases get decided on very technical questions and I’m sure a women’s bench will be better able to appreciate the evidence before it.
— M N Singh, former CP

Victims of rape crimes will get justice. But the judges should be balanced.
— Pradeep Havnur, criminal lawyer

It is a good idea and a welcome move. Cases of this nature will now be disposed of speedily
— Sana Sayed, director, Help Mumbai Foundation

There are male judges who are also very good. But I suppose this is in keeping with the country’s current mood, where we now want lady constables, lady parliamentarians, etc.
— Advocate Flavia Agnes, head, Majlis

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