Direction issued to maintain confidentiality of ‘sensitive documents’

Delhi High Court: Showing concern over a very serious issue of infringement of right to privacy in cases where the lawyers produce very personal documents of the parties as an evidence before the Court, a division bench of S. Muralidhar and I.S. Mehta JJ., issued directions to the lower courts with respect to the steps which should be taken into care while producing documents before the court which is of a ‘sensitive nature’.

In the instant case, the appellant is seeking the permanent custody of his minor children, and for that he produced the ‘personal diary’ maintained by one of his child before the Court to show that he desires to stay with his father even after his vacations are over. The Court stated that contents of the document reflect inter alia the very private and personal feelings and opinions of a young child about his parents, sibling, friends and relatives, and it is not something which should be casually placed in the public domain to violate the right of privacy of the author of the diary as well as person named in the diary thereto. The Court noted that “where litigants themselves do not realize the implications for the right to privacy and dignity of the parties involved in litigation, the Court expects the lawyers handling the litigation to display that understanding of the legal position”.

The Court issued the following directions to maintain the confidentiality of ‘sensitive documents’:

  • where a party in a case seeks to rely upon a document (any writing, private letters, notings, photographs, and documents in electronic form including video clips, text messages, chat details, emails, printed copies thereof, CCTV footage etc.) which is of a sensitive nature and contain details of personal or private nature, then the party or lawyer of such party shall have to firstly seek leave of the court to produce such document in a sealed cover, and till the leave is not granted, the contents of the said document shall not be extracted in the pleadings or enclosed with the petition.
  • where the party/ Family Court on its own, comes upon a document on record in the case which is prima facie of a sensitive nature, which when disclosed is likely to affect the right to privacy or cause embarrassment, the court will pass appropriate orders to preserve such document in a sealed cover, de-seal it for being produced during court proceedings and re-seal it again after the purpose for which they are directed to be produced is over
  • Family Court can also pass necessary directions regarding the making of copies, use, preservation and dissemination of such documents with a view to maintain its confidentiality.
  • Family Court should as far as possible and practicable invoke the power under Section 11 of the Family Courts Act 1984 and hold the proceedings in camera.

Lastly, the Court stated that the parties should avoid bringing children to the Family Court on a routine basis, as it would affect healthy development of children. X v. Z, 2015 SCC OnLine Del 10045 , decided on 11.06.2015

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