SC bars media, police from revealing identities of victims of rape, sexual assault

The Supreme Court on December 11, 2018 directed the print and electronic media not to reveal the identity of victims of rape and sexual assault even in a remote manner.

The SC bench comprising Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta stated that it was not necessary to disclose the identity of victims of rape and sexual assault to "arouse public opinion and sentiment" as these issues need to be dealt with sensitively.

The Judgement: Key Details

In its judgement, the SC bench said that the name and identity of victims of rape and sexual assault, including those who had died, cannot be disclosed "even in a remote manner".

The court said that it was "unfortunate" that such victims were being treated as "untouchable" by the society.

The bench gave the ruling while refusing to agree with an argument that in certain matters, the victim's name should be allowed to be disclosed as her name and face could become a "rallying point" to prevent other such sexual offences.

It was argued before the court that when the victim’s name is disclosed, the victim becomes a symbol of protest or is treated as an iconic figure.

However, the bench stated that it is not at all necessary to disclose the identity of the victim to arouse public opinion and sentiment. The bench said that it is a serious issue dealing with victims of heinous sexual offences and it needs to be dealt with sensitivity.

The bench while referring to the infamous December 16, 2012 gangrape and murder case in Delhi, said: "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.

Hence, it said that 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 the victim’s true identity.

The court also said that the police should ensure that the correspondence or memos exchanged or issued, where the name of the victim is disclosed, are kept in a sealed cover and are not disclosed to the public at large.

The bench said that the names should not be disclosed to the media and they shall also not be furnished to any person under the Right to Information Act, 2015.

Exceptional Cases

The apex court said there may be cases where the identity of such a victim, if not her name, may have to be disclosed and there may be cases also where the dead body of a victim, who was raped, was found.

In such a case, the bench said that while the identity may be revealed but the fact that such victim has been subjected to a sexual offence need not be disclosed.

However, the bench said that nobody can have any objection to the victim disclosing her name herself as long as she is a major and has taken the decision voluntarily.

Further, in relation to the in-camera proceedings in the court in such cases, the bench said that the media can report that some witnesses were examined but they "cannot report what transpired inside the court or what was the statement of victim or the witnesses. The evidence cannot be disclosed".

The bench also stated that in a case where the victim files an appeal under section 372 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) against either acquittal of accused or enhancement of sentence imposed upon him, it would not be necessary for him or her to disclose the identity.

Child-Friendly Courts

The Supreme Court bench also stressed upon the need to have child-friendly courts across the country.

The bench noted that children and women, especially those who have been subjected to sexual assault are virtually overwhelmed by the atmosphere in the courts. It stated that they are scared and so nervous that they, sometimes, are not even able to describe the nature of the crime accurately.

Further, referring to the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, the bench said that its provision "enjoins" on the special court to ensure that there is child-friendly atmosphere in the court.

It said that the special courts or child-friendly courts need not only be used for trying cases under the POCSO but can also be used as trial courts for trying cases of rape against women.

Background

The Supreme Court had earlier agreed to examine the provisions of law that provide curbs and balances for media in reporting incidents of sexual assault, including that of minors, after a complaint that there have been "regular violation" of such provisions.

The issue had cropped up when the court was hearing a batch of petitions filed after the rape and murder of a paramedic student on December 16, 2012 in New Delhi to support the initiatives on women's safety across the country.

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