The Kerala High Court has issued some future guidelines for maintaining rape victim’s anonymity in the matters instituted before it.
The Judge PB Suresh Kumar while considering a petition arising out of a bail order passed by POCSO Court, observed that in several matters instituted before the High Court the identity of the rape victim is disclosed directly or indirectly.
In some matters, identity is disclosed in the pleadings and in some others, identity is disclosed in the documents produced along with the pleadings, then issued the following guidelines:
- The criteria for deciding the identity of the victim shall include the identity of the family of the victim, the school/college of the victim, the place of work of the victim, the relatives of the victim, the neighbourhood of the victim and all other information from which the identity of the victim would be revealed.
- In all proceedings instituted by or on behalf of the victim and against them, documents in which the identity of the victim is disclosed, either required in terms of the rules of the court or produced by the parties concerned to substantiate their case, shall be insisted to be filed in a sealed cover.
- The registry shall designate an officer for the proper custody of documents produced in sealed covers in cases where victim anonymity is to be maintained and shall provide to that officer necessary infrastructure for keeping custody of the documents. Such officer shall be bound by the highest standards of confidentiality.
- After the matter is numbered, registry shall forward the documents received in sealed covers in a self-sealing bag/envelope of appropriate size, preferably one having a provision for tamper proof seal as well, or in other similar tamper proof bag/envelope, after affixing on it a label indicating the particulars of the case under the signature of the Filing Scrutiny Officer concerned to the designated officer for custody and that officer shall ensure that the documents are made available to the court as and when the matters are listed for hearing.
- If the self-sealing bag/envelope in which the documents are kept is opened by the court for perusal of the documents, after the purposes of the court, the same shall be kept in a fresh self-sealing bag/envelope and returned to the designated officer, after affixing on the same a new label indicating the particulars of the case under the signature of the Court Officer concerned. If the selfsealing bag/envelope is opened subsequently by the court, the same procedure directed herein-above shall be repeated.
- The parties producing documents disclosing the identity of the victims need not have to keep or give copies of the same to the opposite parties and they need only refer to such documents in their pleadings.
- If the lawyers appearing against the victims require/need to peruse the documents in the sealed covers, they shall peruse the same with the permission of the court and if they are permitted by the court to peruse the documents, the documents shall be preserved in the same manner indicated in the preceding directions.
The Court said that the procedure in place in the Court to maintain rape victim anonymity is against the spirit of Section 228A of the Indian Penal Code, Sections 24(5), 33(7) and 37 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, and the decision of the Apex Court in Nipun Saxena v. Union of India and others, (2019) 2 SCC 703. The judge observed:
“In the case on hand, it is observed that the opened cover containing the documents were sent back to the section and brought back from the section to the court on the subsequent hearing dates. It is also observed that there is no system in place for disposal of the documents produced in sealed covers, after the final disposal of the case. Similarly, it is observed that the registry is insisting copies of the documents revealing the identity of the victims to be given to the opposite parties in the matter. There is no system in place to maintain victim anonymity in such situations.”