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Sexual crimes: SC places total bar on media disclosing victims' names, identity

A view of the Supreme Court of India in New Delhi.

A view of the Supreme Court of India in New Delhi.   | Photo Credit: Shanker Chakravarty

The Supreme Court on December 11 laid down an absolute bar on the media to publish or air the names or any material which may even remotely reveal the identity of victims of sexual crimes.

“No person can print or publish in print, electronic, social media, etc. the name of the victim or even in a remote manner disclose any facts which can lead to the victim being identified and which should make her identity known to the public at large. The bar extends to anything which can even remotely be used to identify the victim,” a Bench of Justices Madan B. Lokur and Deepak Gupta laid down the rule in their judgment.

The court held that the bar on disclosure under Section 228A(2) of the IPC was not confined to just the name of the victim but actually meant that the “identity of the victim should not be discernible from any matter published in the media”.

“The intention of the lawmakers was that the victim of such offences should not be identifiable so that they do not face any hostile discrimination or harassment in the future,” Justice Gupta, who authored the verdict, observed.

The apex court further held the name and identity of a victim who was either dead or of unsound mind should also not be disclosed even under the authorisation of the next of the kin. Any exception to this rule should be decided by the competent authority, the Sessions Judge.

The court was not impressed by arguments that the identity of a dead victim of sexual crime should be revealed as it would become a “symbol of protest or treated as an iconic figure”.

“All of us are fully aware that without disclosing her true identity ‘Nirbhaya’ became the most effective symbol of protest the country has ever known. If a campaign has to be started to protect the rights of the victim and mobilise public opinion it can be done so without disclosing her identity,” Justice Gupta reasoned.

The Supreme Court barred the police from putting in public domain FIRs under Sections 376 to 376E (the range of sexual offences under IPC) and those under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.

The documents disclosing identity of a victim should be kept in a sealed cover. Authorities to which a victim’s identity was disclosed by an investigating agency or the court are duty bound to keep it a secret. A victim need not reveal her identity while filing an appeal in a criminal court, the judgment held.

Only Special Courts under POCSO can permit the disclosure of the identity of a minor victim, that too, only if such divulgence were in the interest of the child.

The court finally urged States and Union Territories to set up at least one ‘one-stop centre’ in every district within a year to support women affected by violence of any nature.

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Printable version | Sep 25, 2020 6:54:31 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/names-identities-of-victims-of-rape-and-sexual-assault-not-to-be-disclosed-sc/article25716591.ece

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