A petition has been filed in the Supreme Court challenging guidelines issued by the Bombay High Court in cases under the Protection of Women from Sexual Harassment (POSH) Act, which include a blanket bar on parties and advocates from sharing records, including orders and judgments, with the media.
The petition filed by advocate Abha Singh argued that the September 24, 2021 order of a Single Bench of the High Court was a “death blow” to freedom of speech and expression enshrined under Article 19.
The petition said a well-informed citizenry governs itself better. Right to free speech can be curbed only if it interferes with the administration of justice. Any injunction on the right of the people to know true and accurate facts is an encroachment on their right to information.
“In matters of social justice and women empowerment, public discourse plays a crucial role in shaping the nature of legal entitlements that are delivered to women,” the petition argued.
It said the HC order may have a “ripple effect” and deter survivors from approaching courts as well as setting a dangerous precedent for trial cases.
“The same will legitimise undue protection to sexual offenders in gross violation of principles of open court, natural justice and fundamental rights of survivors.”
The guidelines were formed by Justice G.S. Patel of the High Court ostensibly to protect the identities of the parties in a case under the POSH Act.
The Single Bench had flagged how there were no set guidelines to protect identifies even from accidental disclosures.
Ms. Singh has however argued that the HC order violates the principles of open court as enshrined in the Swapnil Tripathi judgment.
She argued that such an order cannot be passed in a suit for compensation due to wrongful and retaliatory termination.