In a very encouraging statement, Madras High Court observed on Friday that an accused person who is eventually acquitted of all charges would be entitled to have his name redacted from court orders (pertaining to the crime he was earlier accused of) in order to protect his right to privacy.
Justice N Anand Venkatesh made the observation after a man – who was earlier accused of offences under Sections 417 (cheating) and 376 (rape) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) – was subsequently acquitted of all charges by the High Court moved a plea to redact his name from the Court’s judgment.
Madras High Court
It was argued that the petitioner can no longer be identified as an accused in the eye of law after the acquittal. The high court found prima facie merit in the petitioner’s case and noted that he is entitled to get his name redacted from the High Court’s judgment.
Not just this, but the honourable court went one step further and decided to write a detailed judgment on the issue. For this purpose, it has invited the response of the concerned authorities as well as members of the Bar. As reported by Bar and Bench, the court said,
This Court wants to hear the learned counsel appearing on behalf of the respondents 1 to 3 and also the Members of the Bar and understand the various ramifications before writing a detailed Judgment on this issue.
Acquitted Person Entitled For Right To Privacy
The Court observed that following the Supreme Court’s historic judgment of Puttasamy v. Union of India 2018 whereby the right to privacy is now recognized as a fundamental right, an acquitted person would be entitled to have his name redacted from judgments referring to him as an accused. The order noted,
If the essence of this Judgment is applied to the case on hand, obviously even a person, who was accused of committing an offence and who has been subsequently acquitted from all charges will be entitled for redacting his name from the order passed by the Court in order to protect his Right of Privacy.
Google Searches Create First Impressions
Justice Venkatesh very rightly observed that in today’s world, first impressions are often created based on the information obtained through quick google/internet searches, even if such information is not authentic.
The court further remarked how the world is literally under the grips of social media and depending on the data provided online, a person’s character can be marred.
While so, the judge took note of the petitioner’s grievance that his name is being associated with the criminal accusation earlier levelled against him in the Court’s judgment, even though he has been acquitted from all charges. The court recorded,
Unfortunately, whoever types the name of the petitioner in Google search is able to access the Judgment of this Court. In the entire Judgment, the petitioner is identified as an accused even though he has been ultimately acquitted from all charges.
According to the petitioner, this causes a serious impact on the reputation of the petitioner in the eyes of the Society and therefore, the petitioner wants his name to be redacted from the Judgment of this Court.
Data Protection Bill, 2019 To Be Finalised Soon
The Court went on to observe that the Central Government is in the process of finalising the Data Protection Bill, 2019which is aimed to effectively protect the data and privacy of persons.
Justice Venkatesh made a very relevant point citing how under the prevailing laws, only the identities of victims who are women and children have to be kept confidential when writing judgments and as a result their names do not get reflected in court orders and judgments.
However, such protection is presently not available to accused persons who are later acquitted, the Court noted. Justice Venkatesh also said,
This sufficiently protects the person and privacy of the (woman/ child). This right has not been extended to an accused person, who ultimately is acquitted from all charges. In spite of an order of acquittal, the name of the accused person gets reflected in the order.
Therefore, for the first time, a person, who was acquitted of all charges has approached this Court and sought for redacting his name from the Judgment passed by this Court.
For the present, however, the Court said that it could still act on the request made by the petitioner to redact his name in the Court’s judgment by placing reliance on Article 21 (right to life and personal liberty which has been interpreted to include the right to privacy) of the Constitution of India.
The matter will be heard next on July 28 at 2.15 pm. The Registry has been asked to publish the order in the Advocate Associations and Bar Associations both in the Principal Bench and the Madurai Bench of the High Court. The court appealed,
The members of the Bar are requested to assist this Court in this issue.
In another Delhi High Court order dated May 2021, Justice Pratibha Singh directed websites to redact the name of a petitioner in similar circumstances. The Delhi High Court had upheld the right of an individual to be forgotten while granting interim relief to an American citizen of Indian origin who was acquitted of criminal charges. Justice Singh then stated,
It is also informed to this Court that a new Right called as Right to be Forgotten is sought to be included in the list of Rights that are already available under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
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