Cannot redact name from judgment copy without statutory backing: HC

A view of Madurai Bench of Madras High Court, in Madurai.   | Photo Credit: R. Ashok

Dismissing the plea of a man, acquitted of all charges, seeking to redact his name from the judgment copy, the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court has observed that in the absence of statutory backing, the court could not issue such directions.

Justice N. Anand Venkatesh observed that it would be appropriate to await the enactment of the Data Protection Act and Rules which might provide an objective criterion while dealing with the plea for redacting names of accused persons acquitted from criminal proceedings.

There must be a proper policy formulated in this regard by means of specific rules. Some basic criteria or parameters must be fixed, failing which such an exercise would lead to utter confusion. The criminal justice system prevalent in the country was far from satisfactory. The court in various cases involving heinous crimes had helplessly passed orders and judgments of acquittal due to slipshod investigation, dishonest witnesses and lack of effective witness protection scheme, the judge said.

He observed that the criminal justice system was yet to reach such a standard where courts could venture to pass orders for redacting names. If such uniform standards were not followed across the country, the constitutional courts would be riding an unruly horse which would prove to be counterproductive.

The country did not have a system like that of the USA where through a court order there could be complete destruction of the entire records of an acquitted person. Such persons could start their life ‘tabula rasa’ (on a clean slate) and lead a normal life with the rights provided by the Constitution, including the right to fill as ‘nil’ in the employment application column for criminal records.

The entire personal information got expunged/destroyed and sealed from the public domain, the judge said.

Further, the judge observed that if the system was looking for identifying an effective right for a person acquitted in a criminal proceeding, it must be a consummate relief. There was no use in just erasing the name of the person in the final judgment or order. In fact, it might prove to be counterproductive for a person to get their name erased from the judgment to prove their innocence, when there could be other materials available in the public domain which pertained to damning their name when the criminal proceedings actually commenced.

The judge acknowledged the contribution made by advocates in providing various perspectives during a five-hour hearing last week that helped in deciding the sensitive issue.

Our code of editorial values

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Sep 28, 2021 9:59:02 PM |

Next Story