The Bombay High Court issued guidelines with respect to cases falling within the ambit of the Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. The Court directed that the hearing of such casesbe held in-camera or in the judge’s chambers. The orders in such cases shall not be passed in open court and are restricted from being uploaded on the official website of High Court as well. The directions cover the format of the order of POSH cases, filing protocols, grant of access by the registry, hearings, public access, breach, media disclosure, recordings and more.
For the purpose of anonymizing the identities of the parties in all orders, the guidelines passed are as follows:
- The order sheets will read “A v B”, “P vs D”, etc instead of the names of the parties which shall not be disclosed..
- The parties will only be referred to as Plaintiff, Defendant No.1 etc, in the body of the order. There shall be no mention of any personally identifiable information (“PII”).
- There is a prohibition on the uploading of orders/judgments on merits.
- All orders and judgments are to be delivered only in Chambers or in-camera and will not be pronounced in open court 2. FILING PROTOCOLS
- The Registry shall not retain any documents containing PII when any affidavit, application or pleading is being filed.
- No copy of any identification documents of the deponent is to be retained on file.
- Parties must make use of anonymized titles for the short titles in all further affidavits.
- By no means is the Registry permitted to enter the email id, mobile number, Aadhaar number or any other PII of any of the parties or witnesses in the case information system. 3. ACCESS
- The Registry shall not permit any person other than the Advocate-on-Record with a current and valid vakalatnama to inspect copies of any filing or order.
- The entire record shall be kept sealed and shall not be shared with any person without a Court order. Additionally, fresh filings shall also be kept secured and with the main record.
- Digitization by any third-party solution provider without a court order is prohibited. If it is to be digitized, directions from the Court shall be taken for supervised digitization.
- Uploading of witness depositions is not permitted under any circumstances. 4. HEARINGS
- All hearings will only be held in the Chambers or in-camera and they must be by physical attendance. There will also be no facilities for online or hybrid hearings.
- Except the advocates and the litigants, all support staff such as clerks, peons, etc are not permitted to attend the hearings and must leave the Court. But the Court Master/Associate or Sheristedar and the stenographer or person providing secretarial assistance are allowed to be present. 5. DIRECTIONS TO CERTIFIED COPY DEPARTMENT
- No objection shall be raised by the Certified Copy Section/Department because of the difference in the short or long title of the concerning matter and order.
- Parties shall function using an ordinary, authenticated or digitally signed copy of every order, to the extent possible.
- The specific order of the Court will be required for releasing any order into the public domain and on the condition that only the fully anonymized version of the judgement order is published in the public domain.
7.CONSEQUENCES OF BREACH OF GUIDELINES
- There is an absolute prohibition on publishing the names, addresses or other PII of the parties. It will continue to apply in cases where that information about the parties has been obtained by making use of the contents of a judgement or order to discover information already in the public domain.
- Everyone including the media are directed to strictly comply with these conditions of anonymity and failure to do so will be a contempt of court. 8. MEDIA DISCLOSURE FORBIDDEN
- Disclosing the contents of any order, judgement or filing to the media or publishing any such material in any mode or fashion by any means, including social media, without specific leave of the Court, is forbidden for the parties, advocates as well as witnesses.
- Along with the usual oath, the witnesses to the action must sign a statement of non-disclosure and confidentiality.
- Everyone concerned shall be bound by the above guidelines and if they fail to abide by these conditions,it shall be a contempt of court. 9. RECORDING PROHIBITED
- Recording of any part of the proceedings or any attempt to do the same or transcribe the recordings or any part thereof shall be a contempt of court. 10. INDUSTRIAL/LABOUR COURT PROCEEDINGS
- If the plaintiff has a pending appeal before the Industrial Court/Labour Court, then that Court will strictly adopt and follow these, including further guidelines as may be issued from time to time.
The bench consisting of Justice Gautam Patel opined that it is imperative to protect the identities of the parties from disclosure, even accidental disclosure, in the proceedings and the guidelines are issued in the interest of both the Parties and are ‘minimum requirements’ which shall be binding on both the Parties.