The Delhi High Court has held that the victim of the sexual offence has “unbridled participatory rights” in all the legal proceedings initiated in relation to the crime alleged to have been committed against them. They have the right to participate from the stage of investigation till the culmination of the proceedings in an appeal or revision.

The High Court further held that there was no requirement in law to implead the victim of sexual offences as a party to any criminal proceedings instituted by the State or the accused. And, issued directions to its registry for ensuring that anonymity and confidentiality of the victim or survivor of sexual offences was strictly maintained in the filings.

The Bench of Justice Anup Jairam Bhambhani observed that “In light of the decision of the Supreme Court in Jagjit Singh (supra), section 439(1A) Cr.P.C. must now be expanded to include the victim's right to be heard even in petitions where an accused seeks anticipatory bail; a convict seeks suspension of sentence, parole, furlough, or other such interim relief.”

Advocate Sudarshan Rajan appeared for the petitioner and APP Tarang Srivastava appeared for the respondent. Senior Advocate Rebecca M. John was appointed as the Amicus Curiae.

The question sought to be dealt with was- Does the victim’s right to be heard include the obligation to be impleaded as a party-respondent in criminal proceedings?

In this case, the petition was filed under section 439 read with section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC), seeking grant of regular bail FIR registered under section 376 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) and under section 4 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSPO). The victim was made “party-respondent in the matter” however her details were redacted.

The High Court said that victims of crime could no longer be asked to remain mere spectators, and must be accorded, in the words of the Supreme Court, unbridled participatory rights in the legal proceedings initiated in relation to the crime alleged to have been committed against them.

The counsel for the respondent argued that the victims must be impleaded in the petitions as at times victims were not intimated about the filing of petitions and were therefore unable to sufficiently contest the same at the first hearing on point of ad-interim relief. It was further argued that since victims, especially of sexual offences, have a right to legal-aid, which illustrated that they have a role to play in criminal proceedings.

The High Court observed that “There is no requirement in law to implead the victim, that is to say, to make the victim a party, to any criminal proceedings, whether instituted by the State or by the accused.”

The High Court further said that the name, parentage, address, social media credentials and photographs of the prosecutrix/victim/survivor must not be disclosed in the filings made in court and any identifying particulars may be brought to court or filed in a sealed cover or a passcode locked electronic folder.

“At the stage of scrutiny of the filings, in the event the Registry finds that the identity credentials of a prosecutrix/victim/survivor are disclosed in the memo of parties or anywhere else in the filings, such filings must be returned to counsel who have filed the same, to undertake requisite redactions, before the filings are accepted;” added the Court.

The Court also stated that “...Since complete redaction in each of those documents might not be feasible, it was also directed that the files/paper-books/e-portfolio of matters relating to sexual offences filed in the court must not be provided to any person other than the parties to the litigation, to the prosecutrix/victim/survivor and their respective counsel, after due verification of the identity credentials of such persons.”

Accordingly, the Court directed the Registrar to bring the judgment to the notice of Hon’ble the Chief Justice for framing of appropriate practice directions or notice or notification, as may be deemed appropriate.

Cause Title- Saleem v. The State of NCT of Delhi & Anr. (Neutral Citation no. 2023:DHC:2622)

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