Delhi High Court: Vibhu Bakhru, J., observed that If an HIV positive person is aware of their condition and has unprotected sex, the person can be punished under Section 270 of Penal Code, 1860.
Appellant was convicted by the trial court under Sections 376/313/307 of Penal Code, 1860.
Appellant was found guilty of raping his stepdaughter and since the appellant was found to be infected with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV Positive) and was convicted for an offence punishable under Section 307 of IPC — attempt to murder.
Trial Court also observed that since the appellant was aware that his acts could result in transmitting the potentially lethal disease, he had knowingly committed an act, which if resulted in transmitting of HIV and consequently, the death of the victim from that disease, it would amount to murder.
Analysis, Law and Decision
Conviction for Rape — offence punishable under Section 376 of IPC
Whether there is any doubt that the appellant is guilty of committing an offence punishable under Section 376 IPC?
Considering that the prosecutrix gave varied statements at various points of time and had changed her stand on oath. The testimony of the prosecutrix could not be considered as wholly reliable and the trial court erred in proceeding on the said basis. However, Court also denied accepting that she was a wholly unreliable witness.
Further, in view of the above Court stated that it would be unsafe to rely on the testimony of the prosecutrix without any corroborative evidence and hence solely on her testimony, the appellant cannot be convicted.
Bench made another observation that,
in the instant case, there is unimpeachable corroborative evidence that the petitioner had raped the prosecutrix. The DNA Fingerprints of the Products of Conception and the DNA Fingerprints generated from the blood sample of the petitioner conclusively established that the appellant was the biological father of the abortus.
It is also material to note that the prosecutrix had in the first instance, when she was brought to the Community Care Centre, reported to the nurse that her stepfather had been repeatedly establishing physical relations with her and had been sexually abusing her in front of her siblings.
Even the medical report recorded:
“Repeated Rape by HIV positive stepfather after the death of mother suffering from HIV/AIDS in Jan 2011. Patient was overdue by one week in April 2011 when she was given an injection to get back her periods back. She bled with clots and pieces. UPT done showing pregnancy positive result.”
High Court concurred with the decision of the trial court that the evidence obtained in the present case clearly established beyond any reasonable doubt that the appellant had engaged in sexual intercourse with prosecutrix without her consent and had committed an offence punishable under Section 376 IPC.
Conviction for causing miscarriage – offence punishable under Section 313 IPC
Whether it is established that the appellant is guilty of committing an offence punishable under Section 313 of the IPC?
Trial Court had held that the appellant was guilty of causing miscarriage to the prosecutrix by administering her pills. It is relevant to note that though the prosecutrix was in Sneh Sadan when she was allegedly administered pills by the appellant and the same was allegedly informed to doctors immediately, no action was taken by any of the doctors in this regard.
Bench stated that there is no material to indicate as to what pills were administered to the prosecutrix. Although three medical doctors were examined, none of them mentioned that in their opinion the prosecutrix‘s miscarriage was induced by the said pills.
Hence, the Court stated that there was no description of the pills allegedly administered to the prosecutrix. There is nothing on record to remotely indicate as to what was the substance that was allegedly administered to the prosecutrix.
Court was of the view that there was insufficient evidence to conclude that the appellant had committed the offence of causing the prosecutrix‘s miscarriage. Therefore, the appellant‘s conviction for committing an offence under Section 313 of the IPC could not be sustained.
Conviction for an attempt to murder – offence punishable under Section 307 IPC
Bench did not concur with the view that the appellant was guilty of an offence punishable under Section 307 IPC for several reasons.
Firstly, that the import of holding so would also mean that any sexual activity by a person infected by HIV is punishable under Section 307 of the IPC, notwithstanding that his or her partner has consented to such sexual activity. This is because the culpable act under Section 307 of the IPC does not cease to be one if the victim of such an act has also consented to the same.
Secondly, the trial court had drawn support for its conclusion by mentioning that several countries prosecute cases of transmission of HIV and non-disclosure of HIV status. However, the court had not examined the specific provisions or the rationale used in various jurisdictions for prosecuting non-disclosure of HIV positive status as general offences.
In cases of actual transmission where an HIV Negative person acquires the said disease as a result of engaging in any sexual activity with an HIV Positive partner, the offender is prosecuted for causing bodily harm.
In certain cases where an HIV Positive person fails to disclose his status and engages in any sexual activity, he/she may be prosecuted for sexual assault as in such cases, the consent of the other person to engage in sexual intercourse is vitiated and the sexual act can be construed as one without consent.
In cases of sexual assault or rape, it is widely accepted that the HIV Positive status of the offender is an aggravating factor to be considered while sentencing the offender.
Thirdly, on a plain reading of Section 307 of IPC, an offence under Section 307 IPC is not made out.
Section 307 of the IPC punishes any act which is done by a person with such intention or knowledge and under the circumstances that by that act cause death, the persons committing such act would be guilty of murder.
Bench observed that clearly, in the facts of the present case, the appellant had not raped the prosecutrix with an intention of causing her death.
According to the prosecution, the appellant was lonely after the death of his wife and he had sexually preyed on his stepdaughter (as allegedly disclosed by him in his disclosure statement).
It is relevant to note that one of the key ingredients of the second, third and fourth limb of Section 300 of the IPC is that the culpable act is so inherently dangerous as is likely to cause death; or is sufficient in the normal course of nature to cause death; or in all probability, it would cause death.
The assumption that penetrative sexual assault would in all probability lead to transmission of the disease, which in all probability would result in the death of a healthy partner is not established. In the facts of the present case, no evidence whatsoever was led to establish the probability of the prosecutrix being transmitted the said disease.
In the given circumstances, the decision of the Trial Court is largely based on surmises and impressions, without analysis of any scientific data to assume that sexual intercourse by an HIV positive patient would in all probability lead to the demise of his partner.
Fourthly, the appellant was medically examined and there is no evidence to indicate that he was a carrier of Herpes Simplex Virus. Thus, there is no evidence that the appellant would have transmitted the said disease to the prosecutrix.
Lastly, this Court is of the view that the Trial Court had erred in proceeding on the basis that provisions of Section 270 of the IPC would not be applicable.
In Supreme Court’s decision of Mr ‘X’ v. Hospital ‘Z’: (1998) 8 SCC 296, a case was considered where the respondent hospital had disclosed that the appellant was HIV positive to his fiancé. As a result of such disclosure, the appellant‘s marriage to his fiancé was called off. Appellant instituted an action to recover damages on the ground that the information regarding his HIV positive status was required to be kept secret under medical ethics and was disclosed illegally. The appellant pleaded that since the hospital had breached its duty to maintain confidentiality, they were liable to pay damages to the appellant.
“…the reasoning that unprotected sexual engagement by an HIV positive person, who is aware of the nature of his disease, can be termed as a negligent act, which he knows is likely to spread the infection of a disease that endangers life and is thus, liable to be punished under Section 270 of the IPC is persuasive and cannot be faulted.”
Court opined that even if the Trial Court was of the view that it would not be apposite to frame charges under Section 270 of the IPC, the same did not necessarily warrant that charges be framed under Section 307 of IPC.
In view of the above, the impugned judgment to the extent that it convicts the appellant for committing an offence punishable under Section 376 of the IPC was upheld.
Punishment for offences under Sections 313 and 307 of IPC was set aside. [Sabhajeet Maurya v. State (NCT of Delhi), 2020 SCC OnLine Del 1525, decided on 26-11-2020]