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Petitioner Vs Respondent: An Accused Person, Who Is Acquitted From All Charges, Is Entitled For Redacting His Name From The Judgment

Umamageswari Maruthappan ,
  28 July 2021       Share Bookmark

Court :
Madras High Court
Brief :
This case deals with the right to privacy concerning the disclosure of identity of accused persons, who later got acquitted from all charges. This was the first case in this regard. The Madras High Court upheld the rights under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.
Citation :
W.P.(MD).No.12015 of 2021


Judgement Summary:
The Madras High Court held that an acquitted accused’s plea of redacting his name from the judgement is valid under Article 21 of the Constitution, with reference to the Puttaswamy case judgement. However, for passing a more detailed order, the High Court first sought to hear the Respondent’s side, and therefore, postponed the final hearing to 28th July 2021.

Date of Judgement:
16th July 2021

Coram:
Justice N. Anand Venkatesh

Parties:
Petitioner
Respondent

Case Summary

The petitioner was arrested in 2011 for being guilty under Sections 376 and 417 of IPC. But the High Court acquitted him of all the charges. However, it was submitted that the petitioner’s name reflects in the judgement, and whenever his name is searched on Google, he appears to be an accused. Therefore, the petitioner approached the High Court to redact his name from the judgement. The Madras High Court allowed the petition, and passed judgement in his favor.

Facts of the Case

  • The petitioner was arrested and sentenced by the Trial Court under Sections 376 and 417 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, in 2011.
  • On appeal, the Madras High Court, after duly analysing the case, acquitted the petitioner from all the charges in 2014.
  • However, since the petitioner’s name was associated with the judgement, the petitioner is still portrayed as an accused whenever his name is searched in Google.
  • This, the petitioner stated, would give way to cause serious impact on his reputation in the eyes of the society.
  • Therefore, the petitioner filed before the Madras High Court requesting that his name be redacted from the judgment.

Issues Involved

  1. Whether the laws on non-disclosure of identity with respect to the protection of a victim’s right to person and privacy extends to an accused person, who is acquitted from all charges?

Important Provisions

  • Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code provides punishment for rape with rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than ten years but which may extend to imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine. The Section also states that a person, who commits rape on a woman under sixteen years of age, shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than twenty years, but which may extend to imprisonment for life, and also with fine.
  • Section 417 of the Indian Penal Code prescribes punishment for cheating with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.
  • Article 21 of the Constitution: This Article guarantees Right to Life and Liberty to the people. It reads: No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.
  • K. S. Puttaswamy vs. Union of India: In Justice K. S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India [(2017) 10 SCC 1], it was held that “Right to Privacy is a Fundamental Right” under Article 21 of the Constitution.
  • Data Protection Bill, 2019: The Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019 was framed to provide for protection of personal data, to create a framework for processing such personal data, and to establisha Data Protection Authority for this purpose. Former Supreme Court Judge B N Srikrishna headed the Expert Committee for formulating this Bill on Data protection. The Bill is expected to turn into an Act soon.

Court Order

The learned Judge accepted the plea of the petitioner and held his contentions valid. However, since this was the first time that such a question came up before the High Court, the Bench decided to hear the Counsels representing the Respondent, and adjourned the disposal of the case to 28. 07. 2021.

The Court relied on the judgement given in Puttaswamy case, and stated that the case of petitioner would also come under Right to Privacy. Therefore, he is entitled to redact his name from the judgement under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The Judge also adduced the Delhi High Court’s latest observation concerning right to be forgotten and right to privacy.

Judgement Analysis

This is said to the first petition filed before the Madras High that sought redacting of the name of the accused, who was held innocent, from the judgement. Hence, Justice Anand Venkatesh decided to make a more detailed analysis of the case and adjourned the matter to a further date. However, the learned Judge validated the petitioner’s contentions as a prima facie case. Though, at present, there is no law specifically designed to protect the right to privacy, yet the Court ordered in favour of the petitioner relying upon the Puttaswamy case judgement. However, this is not the only provision that needs attention, but there are others too. For example, the consequences of redacting the acquitted accused’s name from the Judgement without proper hearing, is serious. Therefore, it is important for the Court to conduct a proper hearing.

However, what if the person so acquitted faces strong discrimination in the society due to his previously held false convictions? This was the major concern in the present case. As rightly pointed out by the learned Judge, information about a person secured from Google search creates, irrespective of its authenticity, a first impression and marks the character of the person concerned. Therefore, the Court was right inholding it important to protect that right of the petitioner.

Conclusion

There are laws enacted to protect the identity of certain victims, who, otherwise, might be subject of harassment. These include women and children. However, there are no such provisions available to a person who is accused of a false charge, and later released on careful examination of the case. These individuals fall in the clutches of the so-called “social media influencers”.Theonline entertaining platforms have created a strong mark on the world to the extent that people are trying to impress with their personality through such media. In such an age, it is important to protect your privacy relating to your person because a person with even a minor defect can easily fall prey to such harassments. Therefore, the Madras High Court’s ruling in the present case is a welcoming order. This will set a good precedent inthe future, and would serve as a relief to persons so acquitted.

Click here to download the original copy of the judgement

 
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