More tools for litigators after Commercial Courts Act boosts discovery in India

JSaiDeepak_OnTrialI have often heard it lamented that India lacks U.S.-style discovery mechanisms at trial. While I am no expert on U.S. procedural law, I believe that Indian civil procedure contains substantial mechanisms for discovery. Let us now look at the mechanisms available under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (“CPC”) including those recently introduced to the CPC through the Commercial Courts, Commercial Division and Commercial Appellate Division of High Courts Act, 2015 (“Commercial Courts Act“). Employed effectively, they can narrow down the scope of facts and issues that need examination at trial.

Discovery under the CPC

Section 30 of the CPC provides for a court’s power to order discovery. At any time during the conduct of a suit, this provision empowers a court, either of its own motion or on the application of a party, to pass necessary and reasonable orders relating to the delivery and answering of interrogatories; the admission of documents and facts; and the discovery, inspection, production, impounding, and return of documents or other material objects that may be produced as evidence. The provision also empowers a court to issue summons to persons whose attendance is required either to give evidence or to produce documents or other objects that may be led in evidence. A court can also order any fact to be proved by way of an affidavit. While it is commonly assumed that only Order XI of the CPC corresponds to Section 30, Orders XII, XIII, and XVI also contain provisions that relate to Section 30.

What’s the role of a court in discovery proceedings?

The framework that emerges from a combined reading of Section 30 and Orders X, XI, XII, XIII, XVI, and XVIII informs us that the assumption that Indian courts lack powers of discovery because they adhere to the adversarial system of justice may not be true. In Maria Margadia Sequeria v. Erasmo Jack De Sequeria (2012), the Supreme Court, holding that discovery was one of the main purposes of the existence of courts, made some telling observations:

“A judge in the Indian System has to be regarded as failing to exercise its jurisdiction and thereby discharging its judicial duty, if in the guise of remaining neutral, he opts to remain passive to the proceedings before him. He has to always keep in mind that “every trial is a voyage of discovery in which truth is the quest”. In order to bring on record the relevant fact, he has to play an active role; no doubt within the bounds of the statutorily defined procedural law.

41. World over, modern procedural Codes are increasingly relying on full disclosure by the parties. Managerial powers of the Judge are being deployed to ensure that the scope of the factual controversy is minimized.

42. In civil cases, adherence to Section 30 CPC would also help in ascertaining the truth. It seems that this provision which ought to be frequently used is rarely pressed in service by our judicial officers and judges.”

The Court also quoted from the report of the Malimath Committee, which had highlighted the drawbacks in a strictly adversarial system and recommended that courts be statutorily mandated to become active seekers of truth. This fundamental shift in the Indian approach to disputes must be borne in mind when one invokes the mechanisms for discovery. In A. Shanmugam v. Ariya K.R.K.M.N.P.Sangam (2012), the Court, apart from reiterating the ratio of Maria Margadia Sequeria, categorically observed that ensuring discovery and production of documents and a proper admission or denial is imperative for the effective adjudication of civil cases.

Bar raised by Commercial Courts Act

The Commercial Courts Act, 2015 builds on this approach further by introducing an improved discovery mechanism, evident from the language and structure of Rules 1 to 5 in the revised Order XI, which is specific to suits of a commercial nature. The spirit of the revised framework is perhaps best captured by Sub-rule 12 of Rule 1. It unequivocally states that the duty to disclose documents that have come to the notice of the party shall continue until the disposal of the suit. It goes without saying that the reference here is to documents, which are relevant and necessary to decide any question that is germane to the dispute before the court. Critically, both parties are expected to file a list of all relevant documents which are in their power, possession, or control regardless of whether those documents support or undermine their respective positions on merits. Clearly, the bar has been raised under the Commercial Courts Act and both the parties and the courts have access to fairly effective discovery options to facilitate expeditious disposal of suits. The actual employment of these options, of course, remains to be seen.

In the next part of this series, I shall discuss framing of issues and the commencement of trial.

J. Sai Deepak is an engineer-turned-law firm partner-turned-arguing counsel. Sai is the founder of Law Chambers of J. Sai Deepak and appears primarily before the High Court of Delhi and the Supreme Court of India. He is @jsaideepak on Twitter and is the founder of the blawg “The Demanding Mistress” where he writes on economic laws, litigation, and policy. All opinions expressed here are academic and personal.


‘Material facts’, ‘material particulars’ and other common CPC terms that are vital for a trial lawyer

JSaiDeepak_OnTrialThere are some terms that are frequently used in the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (“CPC”), and it is important to understand them well because the maintainability of a civil action can depend on your understanding. As you know, the court will not address the merits of a dispute until it is prima facie satisfied about the maintainability of an action.

Cause of action, act, and interest

In Orders 1 and 2 of the CPC, where joinder of parties and causes of actions are discussed among other things, one frequently comes across the terms “cause of action”, “interest”, and “act or transaction”. While Order 1 Rule 1 refers to “acts or transactions”, Order 1 Rule 8, which permits the filing of a representative suit, clarifies in its explanation that those claiming to file a representative suit need only have the “same interest”, they need not have the “same cause of action”. What do these terms mean?

An “act or transaction” is different from “cause of action”. The former gives rise to the latter. An actionable cause arises from an act when the act amounts to the infraction of a party’s right. For instance, selling a patented product without consent is an act which gives rise to a cause of action in favour of the patentee. The same act could also give rise to different causes of action in favour of the same right owner or several right owners. In the example above, the sale of a product could result in infringement of a patent as well as a trademark held by the same individual or could infringe several patents held by unrelated parties.

In contrast to Order 1, Rule 1, which deals with joinder of plaintiffs and Order 1, Rule 3 which deals with joinder of defendants, Order 1, Rule 8,which permits filing of a representative suit, uses the term “interest” to increase the scope for joinder of parties beyond what is provided in Rules 1 and 3. The word “interest” has been used to facilitate adjudication of all questions which arise from the same set of acts or transactions. This provision is intended to avoid multiplicity of litigation where all persons are aggrieved by the same acts or transactions. Importantly, this permits one person to represent all other “interested parties”. For instance, if a host of tenants have an issue with an act or acts of the landlord, instead of filing multiple suits or instead of naming all tenants as parties in one suit, one tenant may represent the rest. Therefore, Rule 8 enlarges the scope of joinder of parties so long as there is a communion of “interest” between the parties.

The distinction between “act or transaction”, “cause of action”, and “interest” affects the maintainability of a civil action. The failure to disclose a prima facie cause of action, for instance, would result in the dismissal of a suit at the outset under Order 7, Rule 11. Similarly, to justify arraying a host of parties as defendants, a plaintiff must set out their relationship inter se, along with their nexus to the transaction which has given rise to the cause of action in favour of the plaintiff against all the defendants. Should the plaintiff fail to justify this, his plaint could be assailed for misjoinder of parties or non-joinder of necessary parties.

Now, let us look at “facts” and “particulars”, two terms that occur frequently in relation to pleadings in Order VI.

Facts, material facts, and material particulars

CPCcontentsOrder VI of the CPC, as discussed earlier, deals with pleadings. It uses the terms “material facts” and “particulars” in different places. Are “material facts” and “particulars” the same? The rules of statutory interpretation and even a common sense understanding of the English language tell us that there is a clear difference. “Facts” refer to the broad matrix or the canvas in the backdrop of which a dispute is contested. “Material facts” are those facts which must find mention in a party’s pleadings in order to establish a claim. “Particulars”, on the other hand, refer to the addition of greater detail to the facts.

The absence of material facts prejudices a party’s case at the outset. The absence of material particulars on the other hand, is curable. The Supreme Court has discussed the distinction between material facts and particulars in Udhav Singh v. Madhav Rao Scindia (1975)In this case, the Court held that “all primary facts which must be proved at the trial by a party to establish the existence of a cause of action or his defence are material facts”. The Court also explained the consequences of the absence of material facts and material particulars.

“The distinction between “material facts” and “material particulars” is important because different consequences may flow from a deficiency of such facts or particulars in the pleading. Failure to plead even a single material fact leads to an incomplete cause of action and incomplete allegations of such a charge are liable to be struck off under Order 6, Rule 16, Code of Civil Procedure.

If the petition is based solely on those allegations which suffer from lack of material facts, the petition is liable to be summarily rejected for want of a cause of action. In the case of a petition suffering from a deficiency of material particulars, the court has discretion to allow the petitioner to supply the required particulars even after the expiry of limitation.”

These terms not only affect the the maintainability of an action, they also influence a party’s prospects at trial when a party is expected to lead evidence with respect to facts in issue. If such facts have not even been pleaded, the party cannot lead evidence to prove such facts. This would necessitate amendment of pleadings under Order 6, Rule 17, which can be a pretty messy affair.

In the next post, I will discuss interim applications under the CPC and the circumstances in which they may be employed.

 J.Sai Deepak, an engineer-turned-litigator, is an Associate Partner in the Litigation Team of NCR-based Saikrishna & Associates. Sai is @jsaideepak on Twitter and is the founder of the blawg “The Demanding Mistress” where he writes on economic laws, litigation and policy. All opinions expressed here are academic and personal.c 

Human Rights

New Gujarat terror law creates vague crimes, allows confessions to the police, permits secret trials, gives police immunity

Manish_authorOn March 31, the Gujarat Assembly passed the Gujarat Control of Terror and Organised Crime Bill, 2015 (“the Bill”), which is now awaiting the Governor’s assent. It is modelled on the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act, 1999 (“MCOCA”), a law that was criticised for being draconian, in excessive violation of civil liberties, and with several documented instances of misuse. This bill had previously been passed on two occasions, in 2003 and in 2009. Each time, it was unsuccessfully referred for the President’s assent. Now, the Opposition has abstained from voting on it and has appealed to the Governor to decline assent.

Poor drafting, vague definitions

The Bill is poorly drafted, especially in places where it deviates from MCOCA. Definitions of “continuing unlawful activity”, “organised crime”, and “organised crime syndicate” (Sections 2(1)(d), (e), and (f) respectively) all refer to one another in a circular manner and offer little clarity. The definitions are also vague. “Organised crime” includes “cyber crimes having severe consequences” and “running large scale gambling rackets”. What constitutes “severe consequences” or “large scale” has not been defined. These terms are absent in MCOCA. The Bill also attempts to define “terrorist act” in Section 2(h) through a long-winded, logically inconsistent, and grammatically incorrect sentence that is painfully strung together and offers no useful guidance regarding what exactly constitutes the act in question. A much clearer definition (with the same ingredients) is found in Section 15 of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967.

The substantive offences are defined in Sections 3 and 4 and are mostly similar to those defined in the MCOCA except for the addition of “terrorist act” in addition to “organised crime”. Besides these acts themselves, conspiracy, abetment, harbour, membership of an organised crime syndicate, and possessing property derived therefrom are all criminalised, with the possibility of life imprisonment (and the death penalty if the organised crime or terrorist act causes death).

Special courts

Sections 5 through 12 deal with special courts and their functioning. The state government, with the concurrence of the Chief Justice, is empowered to set up one or more special courts and appoint judges for exclusively trying offences under the Bill. The special courts have the powers of sessions courts but can also take cognisance of offences. Of interest is Section 10, reproduced verbatim from MCOCA, which states that trials before a special court shall have precedence over trials before any other courts, and imposes a de facto stay on all other proceedings for the period of the trial.

Evidentiary rules for intercepted communication and confessions

Section 14 provides for the admissibility of evidence collected through the interception of wire, oral, or electronic communication. This is where the Bill makes a significant departure from MCOCA – while the latter actually provides a procedure for the interception of communications, the Bill does not do so, only making existing intercepts admissible. Therefore, the procedure that will have to be followed will be as laid down in Rule 419A of the Telegraph Rules, 1951 and Rule 3 of the IT (Interception, Monitoring and Decryption) Rules, 2009. The unhappiness of the drafting reveals itself in a rather confusing (and possibly unnecessary) non-obstante clause at the beginning of the section, followed by the words “under the provisions of any other law”. Interestingly, the first proviso to the section also requires that the accused be provided with a copy of the order of the authority authorising the interception, ten days prior to the hearing where the intercept is sought to be admitted as evidence. This is partially nullified by the second proviso, which gives the judge the discretion to waive the period of ten days.

Among the most controversial of the Bill’s provisions is Section 16, clause (1) of which makes a confession to a police officer admissible in evidence. This section overrides Section 162 of the Code of Criminal Procedure and Sections 25 and 26 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, which specifically prohibit the use of statements made to police officers in evidence, in order to protect the rights of the accused by preventing the extraction of confessions under duress or torture by the police. While investigating agencies ordinarily have the option to record statements before a magistrate under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code, the Gujarat bill destroys this delicate balance between the rights of the accused and the powers of the investigative agencies. It opens the door to egregious violations of human rights while extracting confessions from persons detained under its provisions. By means of an eyewash, the Bill provides some ‘safeguards’ in clauses (2) to (4), which are mostly meaningless given that the authority administering them is not independent, but a part of the investigating process. The shallowness of the provision is revealed by clauses (5) and (6), under which both the statement and the person making it are required to be forwarded to a magistrate within 48 hours. In such a circumstance, the statement could well have been recorded by the magistrate. This section appears to be an elaborate ruse for legitimising confessions to the police, and the inhuman machinations that go behind it: under clause (7), an allegation of torture by the person making the confession does not invalidate the confession, but merely prompts a reference to a civil surgeon for a medical examination.

Witness protection and closed trials

Section 17 contains provisions for the protection of witnesses, and is modelled on Section 19 of MCOCA. It empowers the special courts to hold the trial in-camera and take any measures necessary for concealing the identity and address of the witnesses. As part of this power, Clause 3(d) allows the court to make a decision that “it is in the public interest to order that all or any of the proceedings pending before such a Court shall not be published in any manner”. This is an extreme provision which is reminiscent of the attempt at holding a “secret trial” in the UK for terrorist offences, which was rejected by the Court of Appeal on the ground that “open justice” was both an integral part of common law and a means of ensuring public confidence in the legal system. The same considerations regarding open trials apply to India as well: Section 327 of the Criminal Procedure Code mandates that trials be held in open court, with limited exceptions on reporting. In a situation where the Supreme Court has already laid down guidelines for court reporting, the blanket media gag proposed by the Bill is extremely troubling and avoidable.

Procedural safeguards diluted, stricter conditions for bail

Section 20 dilutes several procedural safeguards provided to the accused under the Code of Criminal Procedure. On the lines of MCOCA and UAPA, it increases the time for which a person may be detained in police and judicial custody, pending investigation, to 30 and 180 days respectively. Clause (3) removes the option of anticipatory bail and clause (4) provides for extremely restrictive conditions regarding bail, almost mandating the acquiescence of the public prosecutor. Clause (5) is another controversial provision, which denies bail even if the accused had been released on bail in an offence under any other law on the date of the offence. This clause is based on Section 21(5) of MCOCA, which was held to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2008. The Bill therefore deviates from the well-established jurisprudence of bail being a right and jail being the exception. Thus, even if no charges are made out, people detained under the provisions of the Bill will have to languish in jail.

Burden of proof shifted

Section 21 of the Bill, which is identical to Section 22 of MCOCA, is a reverse-onus clause, which shifts the burden of proof from the prosecution to the accused in certain circumstances. In doing so, it dispenses with the presumption of innocence of the accused and breaks the “golden thread” of criminal jurisprudence, requiring the prosecution to prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt, which originated in common law but has become a settled proposition in Indian criminal jurisprudence as well.

Immunity for state functionaries

Image above is from the website of the All India Radio.

Image above is from the website of the All India Radio.

As a matter of abundant caution, Section 24 of the Bill contains another non-obstante clause giving it overriding effect over all other laws for the time being in force. Section 25 caps off the draconian legislation by granting complete immunity to all state functionaries for any action taken under the provisions of the Bill. This effectively provides impunity to police officers for torture and extra-judicial methods employed in criminal investigations, under the garb of “anti-terror operations”. Thus, even in cases of false prosecutions, like the 2002 Akshardham terror attack, the victims will be left empty handed and without any recourse to justice.

“Tough anti-terror laws” have rarely if ever proven useful at combating terrorism, and usually serve to provide a cover for the incompetence of investigating agencies. A case in point is the aforementioned Akshardham terror attack case, where the Supreme Court came down heavily on the investigating agencies for conducting a shoddy investigation, which led to the framing of innocent persons, while the actual masterminds behind the attack were still at large. Gujarat already has a history of draconian legislation in the Gujarat Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Act, 1985 (“PASA”), which authorises preventive detention, and has been heavily criticised for being used to detain activists and protestors. For now, hope rests with the Governor and the President to prevent the new Bill from becoming law. Unfortunately, judicial history shows that the Supreme Court has also been extremely restrained while testing the validity of these laws under the Constitution, with the most draconian provisions being upheld repeatedly. The last of these was MCOCA in 2008, which was upheld (although the challenge was mainly on grounds of legislative competence rather than violation of Article 21). While hope is eternal, the outlook remains bleak if the Bill is assented to.

(Manish is a 2013 graduate of NLSIU, Bangalore and works on issues of access to justice. He is currently based in Ahmedabad.)

Human Rights Supreme Court of India

Where process is punishment: Supreme Court shows how additional police powers in terror laws encourage injustice

ShadanFarasat_SupremeCourtofIndiaOn July 18, the Supreme Court delivered a judgment releasing from custody, twelve men who had been accused of orchestrating the blasts in Surat in 1993. Justices T.S. Thakur and C. Nagappan delivered the decision titled Hussain Ghadialy and Others v. State of Gujarat in Criminal Appeal No. 92 of 2009. The judgment itself does not point out the period for which the accused had been incarcerated. Given that the blasts happened over twenty-one years ago, it would be reasonable to presume that the accused had spent over fifteen years in custody for an offence that the Supreme Court has now determined they did not commit.

Justices Thakur and Nagappan of the Supreme Court of India.

Speaking for the Court, Justice T.S. Thakur held that the under Section 20A of the now-lapsed Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act, 1987 (“TADA”), the approval of the District Superintendent of Police was necessary before any information about the commission of an offence under the provisions of TADA can be recorded. In this case, no such permission was obtained. All proceedings under TADA therefore, stood vitiated. The only evidence against the accused was their confessions before the police, which could be admitted as evidence under Section 15 of TADA. Since the provisions of TADA were not applicable however, the convictions could not be sustained without independent evidence.

In another recent judgment, that of A.S. Ajmeri v. State of Gujarat, Criminal Appeal No. 2295-96 of 2010, delivered on May 16, another bench of the Supreme Court released on very similar grounds, the accused under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002 (“POTA”). In this case too, the police force involved was the  Gujarat Police and the Court passed severe strictures against them.

LawSchoolInductionThese two cases really highlight the severe damage caused by the provisions of these draconian laws. Far from making the apprehension and conviction of actual terrorists more credible, these provisions gave the police another tool to frame innocent individuals only to show that the case has been solved, even as the actual perpetrators of such violence remain un-apprehended.

The more recent case before the Supreme Court was one of the many where the sole basis for conviction in a TADA case was the confession before the police. Under the normal criminal law, such confessions are inadmissible as evidence. In most of these cases, the designated TADA courts have given too much leeway to the prosecution and convicted the accused only on the basis of a confession before the police, even though there were serious irregularities in the initiation of proceedings under TADA or in the recording of the confessions, which are very often fabricated. Under TADA, the first and only appeal lies to the Supreme Court. By the time the Supreme Court finally corrects these errors and acquits the accused, more than a decade has passed. The process itself becomes the punishment.

While TADA itself has been repealed, many of the questionable convictions made under this law are still pending appeal before the Supreme Court. Even if the accused are released in these appeals, given the absence of jurisprudence in India over compensation for wrongful or malicious prosecution, they are usually not granted any compensation for the crucial years of their life that they spent in custody. After the years of incarceration, most of the accused are just happy to be out of jail and reunite with their families.

policeindiaThis experience with TADA and POTA shows that draconian provisions giving additional powers to the police, especially in relation to the admissibility of evidence is, in the absence of genuine police reform, likely to encourage an already compromised police force to misuse them to frame innocent civilians while the real perpetrators roam free. The solution lies in having a more professional and uncompromised police force that is able to honestly investigate and solve both regular crimes and terrorism cases alike.

Shadan Farasat is an Advocate-on-Record at the Supreme Court of India.


Human Rights

Rape shield: Prohibit use of victim’s sexual history in rape trials

SuhasaniRao_RainmakerfacultyUnderstanding the need for greater awareness to deal with sexual offences has come into focus over the last two years. The law in this regard is changing. However, there still remain some gaping holes in a framework that should be comprehensive. This article explores some of the issues that remain unaddressed by the current laws in force, in India, concerning sexual offences.

Rape Shield Laws

In India, victims of sexual offences are guaranteed anonymity. Under Section 228A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, disclosing the identity of a victim of certain sexual offences is a crime. Till as late as 2003, it was lawful to bring up the previous sexual history of a victim of rape in order to establish consent. In 2003, a provision of the Indian Evidence Act, 1882 (“Evidence Act”) was deleted in a move towards providing protection to the victims of rape. Further, Section 146 of the Evidence Act now prohibits the questioning of a victim of rape along the lines of her previous sexual history in order to prove consent, in a rape trial. These provisions together, provide a limited rape shield in the Indian legal framework.

Rape shield laws limit the ability of defendants to cross-examine complainants in rape trials about their past sexual history. They also prohibit the disclosure of the identity of alleged rape victims.

SexualHarassmentAtTheWorkplaceMOOC2The philosophy behind these laws, firstly, is that the prior sexual history of a complainant is irrelevant to the question of whether an offence of rape can be established. The facts of the particular instance should be the only evidence that determines guilt. They provide an extra layer of protection to “victim blaming”, the phenomenon of holding the victims of crimes partially or even completely responsible for the rape. The violation of their anonymity and the disclosure of the identity of a rape victim often lead to more violation through increased scrutiny and the stigma attached to the offence of rape. Moreover, given that sexual offences violate the most fundamental right of a human being to exist in peace with full bodily integrity, rape victims often feel a deep sense of fear and trauma when identifying their attackers. Maintaining the anonymity of rape victims is therefore also aimed at providing victims with a sense of security when noting their testimony.

Rape shield laws around the world

These laws trace their origins to the 1970s and 1980s in the United States of America when most of the states provided different levels of protection for rape victims such as mandatory anonymity and restrictions on the admissibility of the previous sexual history of victims as evidence in rape trials. Since then, rape shield laws have been formulated in many jurisdictions. In the United Kingdom, the Youth and Criminal Justice Act of 1999 prohibited the use of a victim’s sexual history as evidence in a trial. In New Zealand, a rape victim’s sexual history has to be vital to the context of the trial for it to be permitted in evidence. Otherwise, the law prohibits the use of such evidence. Similarly, in Australia, rape shield protection is applicable in all territories. Even Ireland, a fairly conservative jurisdiction, has rape shield protection for victims of sexual offences with very limited exceptions to the prohibition of admissibility of the victim’s sexual history as evidence.

Conflict with fair trial rights

Often however, rape shield laws present a conflict with the defendant’s rights to a fair trial, including the defendant’s right to confront the complainant and challenge the veracity of the allegation. The rape shield law in the United Kingdom for example, was read down by the House of Lords, holding that a law that bans juries in rape trials from hearing evidence that an accused had a previous sexual relationship with the accuser breached his right to a fair trial.

Thus, most rape shield laws are couched in negative terms, completely excluding the rape victim’s sexual history from being introduced as evidence. Thereafter, exceptional cases are listed where such evidence may be introduced, notable among them being situations where the defendant’s constitutional right to a fair trial may be violated.

The argument for some measure of anonymity of the defendant in trails of sexual offences is finding some ground in current debate as well. It is opined that it is necessary to keep the identity of the defendant under wraps, at least until the judgment in the case is declared. This is because the stigma attached to sexual offences can deeply affect and destroy the lives of not just the direct victims of the offences, but also the relatives and family members of the defendants.

Absence of a rape shield law in India

Indian laws provide limited protection to victims of sexual offences by prohibiting the disclosure of their identity. The need for a rape shield law in India needs to be seen alongside efforts to combat other types of secondary victimisation of rape victims. Rape victims in India would often be subject to insensitive examination and humiliation by public authorities such as medical examiners and law enforcement professionals in charge of investigating the offence, including the “two-finger test”, (“TFT”) involving a physical examination by a medical practitioner of the rape victim’s genitalia. (In India, a man cannot be a victim of rape). The medical practitioner would insert two fingers into the rape victim in order to establish the “laxity” of her muscles and determine whether the victim was “habituated to sex”. A finding that the complainant was habituated to sex would assist the defence. In fact, in such cases, the defendant would claim that any sexual intercourse between the victim and himself was consensual since the victim was “used to sexual intercourse”.  The pervasiveness of the two-finger test meant that successful prosecutions for rape were limited to instances where the victim was a virgin or at least perceived to be so, at the time of the occurrence of the crime.

The Supreme Court of India has repeatedly grappled with the TFT and has had many a scathing opinions on its applicability. A decisive change of the law occurred last year in Lillu v. State of Haryana in 2013. The Court outlawed the TFT in the following words: “…., the two finger test and its interpretation violates the right of rape survivors to privacy,  physical and mental integrity and dignity. Thus, this test, even if the report is affirmative, cannot ipso facto, be given rise to presumption of consent.”

In light of this judgment, on December 16, 2013, the Department of Health Research under the Indian Council of Medical Research issued guidelines to prohibit the use of the TFT in forensic medical examinations of victims of rape. This prohibition is now part of the Instruction Manual for Forensic Medical Examination Report of Sexual Assault (Victim) brought out by the Government of India.

It is now a medically accepted fact that the loss of virginity can occur without intercourse. Given this scientific evidence, it becomes necessary to re-evaluate the way the law perceives and protects victims of sexual offences. Discarding the use of the TFT was a small step.

There is an immediate need for clear legislative directives throughout the judicial hierarchy, the media and members of the law enforcement agencies to approach the crime of rape with greater sensitivity. It is the need of the hour to implement a humane and a sensitive understanding of the offence of rape so that a rape victim’s trauma is not prolonged through brutal investigation and trial procedures.

(Suhasini Rao is part of the faculty on

(This article was corrected on May 1, 2014 to remove an error of law. The prior version did not take into account the 2003 amendment to the Evidence Act. We are grateful to our readers for bringing this to our attention. – Editor)