The Kerala High Court recently directed immediate anonymization of records to protect a rape survivor’s identity but dismissed request for legal action against the Magistrate who inadvertently revealed the name of the survivor in his order.
The petitioner had sought action against the Magistrate under Section 228A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) which criminalises revealing the identity of victims of certain offences like rape.
However, Justice Devan Ramachandran concluded that the Magistrate’s inadvertent omission did not warrant criminal action under Section 228A.
The Court clarified that Section 228A applies only to those who print or publish the identity of a victim and does not cover situations where a court, during the course of its proceedings, inadvertently reveals such information.
The judgment highlighted the plenary protection granted to judges under the Judges (Protection) Act, emphasizing that the Magistrate was acting in discharge of judicial duties.
However, the Court urged judges and judicial officers to be conscious of the imperative need to maintain the anonymity of sexual offence victims, suggesting proactive measures to anonymize details in cases involving such victims.
The petition was moved by the survivor seeking action against the Judicial First Class Magistrate, Kattakkada.
The survivor had approached the Magistrate court to cancel the bail granted to accused Saiju AV. The Magistrate passed an order refusing to cancel the bail and also revealed the identity of the victim.
The survivor challenged the order before the High Court and while the plea was pending, she noticed that the website of the High Court too revealed her name.
The revelation of her identity in the order of the Magistrate prompted her to approach the High Court arguing that the same amounted to a violation of the judgment of the Supreme Court in Nipun Saxena & Anr. v Union of India & Ors. which laid down guidelines to protect the identities of victims of rape.
It was alleged in her petition that the accused-police officer influenced the Magistrate to reveal her identity in the order. She argued that it has led to a loss of reputation and has detrimentally affected her career as a dental doctor.
It was also argued that the explanation under Section 228A of the Indian Penal Code, which exempts publication of judgments of High Courts and the Supreme Court from the penalty for disclosing the identity of rape survivors or victims, does not offer the same exemption to Magistrate courts.
Therefore, the petitioner sought directions to the Registrar (District Judiciary) and the Registrar General of the High Court to initiate appropriate legal proceedings against the Magistrate.
She also sought orders to mask her name and address in the Magistrate’s order as well as the website of the High Court.
The Court refused action against the Magistrate but directed the registry to circulate the judgment to all judicial officers, particularly in criminal jurisdiction, and recommended training processes at the Kerala Judicial Academy to address similar issues in the future.
The Court also ordered the Magistrate to anonymize the proceedings and orders related to the petitioner within two weeks.
The petitioner was represented by advocates V Sethunath, VR Manoranjan, Thomas Abraham, Sreeganesh U and Lakshminarayanan R.