No Blanket Application of Maintaining Party Confidentiality in POSH Cases

Bombay High Court: No Blanket Application of Maintaining Party Confidentiality in POSH Cases

The Bombay High Court, on 24th September 2021, in the case of the P vs A & Ors, 2021 coherently laid down a set a guidelines condemning the disclosure of the identities of parties, even accidentally, involved in matters falling under the Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (โ€œPOSH Actโ€) and Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Rules, 2013 (โ€œPOSH Rulesโ€). These guidelines are the minimum requirement, and will be subject to revision in the future, as and when the need arises.

Guidelines governing cases of sexual harassment:

  1. Orders  – The order sheets will read the names of the parties as โ€œA vs Bโ€ or โ€œP vs Dโ€ etc to maintain anonymity, and in the body of the order, the parties will be referred to as โ€œPlaintiffโ€/โ€Defendant No. 1โ€ etc, and witness names will be kept confidential. There will be no mentioning of any Personally Identifiable Information (โ€œPIIโ€) like email IDs, phone numbers, addresses etc. Any order/judgment on merits shall neither be held in open courts (only in Chambers/in-camera) nor be uploaded.
  2. Filing Protocols โ€“ The Registry, for the purposes of verification of identity, may ask for an identity document, but it will not retain it on file. Neither any PII document will be retained. Parties must use the anonymised title for all further affidavits.
  3. Access โ€“ Only the Advocate-on-Record with a latest and valid vakalatnama shall be allowed by the Registry to inspect or take copies of the order. The entire record, including the fresh filings are to be kept sealed and is not to be given to anyone without an order of the court. If the records are being digitized, directions will be sought from the court for it has to be under supervision. Come what may, witness depositions shall not be uploaded anywhere.
  4. Hearings โ€“ All hearings will be in person i.e., physical attendance is mandatory (no hybrid/online hearings). All such hearings shall  be in-camera/Chambers. Only the parties, the advocates, Court Master/Associate or Sheristedar are to attend the hearings, rest all members (peons, clerks, etc) shall vacate the court.
  5. Directions to Certified Copy Department โ€“ There will be no objections raised on the basis of the title of the matter by the Certified Copy Section/Department of the court. As such, the parties are required to use a digitally signed /ordinary/authenticated copy of every order.
  6. Public Access โ€“ The only way an order can be made public is by way of securing a special order of the court. Even then, a completely anonymised version of the same would be permitted to be disclosed.
  7. Breach* โ€“ The requirement of keeping the details of the parties confidential is an absolute one; all persons including the media have to be mindful of the same.
  8. Media Disclosure Forbidden* โ€“ Without special leave of the court, any of the parties/advocates/witnesses cannot disclose the contents of any order/judgment/filing to the media or even on social media. In furtherance of the same, the witnesses will be made to sign a statement of non-disclosure and confidentiality.
  9. Recording Prohibited* โ€“ Recording any part of the proceedings, in any form, is condemned.
  10. Industrial/Labour Court Proceedings –
  11. If the plaintiff has a pending appeal in the Industrial/Labour Court, the Court will adjudicate the matter keeping in mind the present, and any future guidelines
  12. The parties to the dispute will make sure that a copy of this order is sent to the presiding judge and the president of the Court.

*Failure to abide by the same shall amount to contempt of court.

Vaishali Jain, Advocate & Associate & Sampoorna Chatterjee

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