The Supreme Court on Thursday set aside the Bombay High Court's controversial verdict acquitting a man accused under the POCSO Act for groping a minor girl and ruled that direct "skin-to-skin" contact is not essential to constituting an offence under the special law aimed to protect children from sexual abuse.
The Supreme Court ruled that the most important ingredient of constituting sexual assault under Section 7 of the POCSO Act is sexual intent and not skin-to-skin contact with the victim.
A Bench of Justices UU Lalit, S Ravindra Bhat and Bela M Trivedi set aside the controversial Bombay High Court judgment that held that groping a minor's breast without "skin-to-skin contact" cannot be termed as sexual assault as defined under the POCSO Act.
In its judgement, the Bench said "skin-to-skin" contact was not essential for the POCSO offence as held by the Bombay High Court. The Bench said giving a narrow meaning of physical contact to confine it to "skin-to-skin" contact would defeat the purpose of the POCSO Act and it could not be accepted.
The Supreme Court's order came on petitions filed by Attorney General KK Venugopal, state of Maharashtra, and the National Commission for Women (NCW) against the January 19 judgment passed by the Bombay High Court, which held that pressing the breast of a 12-year-old child without removing her top will not fall within the definition of 'sexual assault'.
On January 27, the apex court had stayed the operation of the January 19 verdict of the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court after the Attorney General had mentioned and said the order was "very disturbing" and would set a "dangerous precedent".
Attorney General, NCW, Maharashtra, Youth Bar Association of India, while challenging the Bombay High Court order in the apex court, stated that such observations would have a wide impact on entire society and the public at large.
Seeking to set aside the Bombay High Court order, the appeals said the observations made by the Bombay High Court were unwarranted and concerned the modesty of a girl child.
One of the pleas pointed out that while passing the impugned judgment, the Single Judge recorded the name of the victim child. As per law, the names of victims of certain offences could not be published.