The Delhi High Court has directed the Registry that in case of sexual offences, it must ensure that the anonymity and confidentiality of a victim or survivor is strictly maintained.

A Single Bench of Justice Anup Jairam Bhambhani held, “Indeed, there may be times where a victim may not seek a hearing before the court, and making a victim a party to the proceedings, mandating them to appear and ‘defend’, so to speak, various proceedings that the State or the accused may initiate, may cause additional hardship and agony to the victim. … It is directed that the Registry must carefully scrutinise all filings relating to sexual offences, to ensure that the anonymity and confidentiality of the prosecutrix/victim/survivor is strictly maintained.”

The Bench reiterated that the right to be represented and be heard is distinct from the right or the obligation to be a party to criminal proceedings.

The Court was dealing with the question, “Does the victim’s right to be heard include the obligation to be impleaded as a party-respondent in criminal proceedings?”

Amicus Curiae Sudarshan Rajan and Rebecca M. John appeared on behalf of the petitioner while APPs Meenakshi Dahiya and Tarang Srivastava appeared on behalf of the State, and Advocate Nitin Saluja appeared on behalf of the complainant.

Facts -

A plea was filed under Section 439 read with Section 482 of the Cr.PC., seeking a grant of bail in a case registered under Section 376 of the IPC, and Section 4 of the POCSO Act. On the first date of hearing, while issuing notice on the petition, it was observed that the victim in the subject FIR had been made party-respondent in the matter, though her name and particulars had been anonymized or redacted and this, the counsel for the petitioner said, was done on the specific directions of the Registry of the High Court.

A report in that regard was called from the Registrar and it cited Section 439(1A) Cr.P.C. and Practice Directions issued by the Delhi High Court, to say that the petitioner was directed to implead the victim as a party-respondent in the matter in purported compliance and towards implementation of the said statutory provision and the practice directions issued by the court. Reference was also made to an order made by a Co-ordinate Bench where the appellant was granted permission to implead the complainant as party-respondent and the report also said that the same practice was being followed in all matters being filed in the court relating to victims of sexual offences.

The High Court after considering the submissions made by respective counsel noted, “On a conspectus of the foregoing therefore, on the one hand, there is the unbridled right of a victim to participate in all criminal proceedings relating to the crime; and on the other hand, in so far as sexual offences are concerned, there is also a legal mandate that the victim’s identity must be kept confidential. … It is accordingly necessary for this court to explore as to how these two legal mandates must be effectuated, so that one does not negate the other.”

The Court, therefore, issued the following directions:

1. The name, parentage, address, social media credentials and photographs of the prosecutrix/victim/survivor must not be disclosed in the filings made in court, including in the memo of parties;

2. The name, parentage and address of family members of the prosecutrix/victim/survivor — through whom the prosecutrix/victim/survivor could be identified — must not be disclosed in the filings, including in the memo of parties, even if they are accused in the case, since this may indirectly lead to the identification of the prosecutrix/victim/ survivor;

3. Since redaction of the identifying particulars of the prosecutrix/victim/survivor from the FIR, chargesheet, proceedings before the trial court and other similar records, is the duty and obligation of the authorities/court that prepare such documents; and insofar as the proceedings before this court are concerned, making complete redaction in each of those documents may not be feasible, it is also directed that the files/paper-books/e-portfolio of matters relating to sexual offences filed in this 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;

4. 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;

5. To obviate the dissemination of identifying particulars to any other person or agency even within the High Court, it is further directed that all service to be effected upon the prosecutrix/victim/survivor shall only be through the Investigating Officer in accordance with Practice Directions dated 24.09.2019 and not through the process serving agency, though a copy of the petition or application must be served upon the prosecutrix/victim/survivor;

6. In effecting service as aforesaid, the Investigating Officer must remain in ‘plain clothes’ so as to avoid any unwarranted attention;

7. Furthermore, the Investigating Officer must also inform the prosecutrix/victim/survivor that they have the right to free legal-aid/representation in accordance with the mandate of the Supreme Court;

8. If the parties wish to cite in court any identifying particulars of the prosecutrix/victim/survivor, including photographs or social media communications etc., such party may bring the same to court in ‘sealed cover’; or file the same in ‘sealed cover’ or in a ‘pass-code locked’ electronic folder and share the pass-code only with the concerned Court Master.

Accordingly, the Court disposed of the plea.

Cause Title- Saleem v. The State of NCT of Delhi & Anr. (Neutral Citation: 2023:DHC:2622)

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