Do directions for details of hotel stay, call records to prove adultery violate right to privacy? Supreme Court to examine

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The Supreme Court is set to examine whether directions calling for details of hotel stays and call records to prove allegations of adultery are violative of the fundament right to privacy under Article 21 of the Constitution.

A Bench of Justices Krishna Murari and PV Sanjay Kumar was hearing an appeal against a Delhi High Court ruling on the issue. The Court on Tuesday gave the respondent time to file a reply, before posting the case for hearing on August 7.

In its order passed in May this year, the Delhi High Court had held that demanding details of hotel room bookings and call detail records (CDR) for proving a case of adultery did not amount to a violation of the right to privacy.

Justice Rekha Palli of the High Court observed that the right to privacy is not an absolute right, and that it is subject to reasonable restrictions if they are in public interest.

The High Court, therefore, upheld a family court decision to allow a woman’s application to summon the records of a hotel room where her husband allegedly stayed with another woman. The Court also called for the CDR of two phone numbers belonging to the husband.

This ruling has been challenged by the husband. In his appeal, filed through Advocate Preeti Singh, the appellant highlighted that the High Court has given expansive powers of evidence collection to the family court.

He also contended that the High Court’s reasoning was based on an incorrect reading of the top court’s judgment decriminalising adultery.

In particular, the High Court had referred to an observation in the Supreme Court judgment that those guilty of adultery will not be entitled to protections under Article 21 of the Constitution in some cases.

The appellant has contended that in an era where gender equality, personal choice and LGBT rights are being recognised, it cannot be said that the presence of a man and woman in a public place, like a park or a restaurant, would indicate an adulterous relationship. Such a view would turn the clock back, he added.

“If Family Courts themselves start bearing the burden to establish grounds of divorce and thereby start summoning the personal documents of individuals it would cause great level of injury to an individual‘s fundamental right of privacy,” the appeal stated further.

The matter has its genesis in a divorce petition filed against the husband by his wife, citing grounds of cruelty and adultery.

It was the woman’s case that her husband stayed at a Jaipur hotel with another lady and her daughter. The CDR as well as the hotel records were necessary to prove the case of adultery, she argued.

However, the husband had contended that the trial court’s directions amounted to an infringement of not only his, but also his friend’s right to privacy.

He argued that if the directions were complied with, the same would cast grave aspersions not only on the reputation and character of the woman whom he coincidentally met at the hotel, but would also put a question mark on the legitimacy and paternity of the woman’s minor child.

The High Court reasoned that the information sought by the wife would definitely be relevant for proving the charge of adultery.

It also rejected the argument that the direction to produce the records amounts to a roving and fishing inquiry.

Justice Palli added that when a wife seeks the help of a court for procuring evidence that would go a long way to prove adultery on the part of her husband, the court must step in.

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