Delhi High Court: In a case wherein an application was filed under Section 151 of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908 (“Code”) by the plaintiff praying that this Court may allow for the in camera proceedings of the present matter and to restraint the defendant from using social media platforms, namely, Instagram and YouTube or any other Social Media Platform/News Platform for the cause of Harassment and Cyberbullying the plaintiff and her family, a Single Bench of Chandra Dhari Singh, J. held that in camera proceedings could be held under Section 151 of the Code. The Court further granted an ex parte ad interim injunction in favour of the plaintiff and thereby restrained Defendant 1 from using any social media platforms, including Instagram and YouTube for making any comments/remarks in relation to the plaintiff or her family members.
The plaintiff was a Bollywood movie producer who had approached this Court seeking injunction and damages against Defendant 1, Anmol Sheikh alias Malaika. It was submitted by the plaintiff that Defendant 1 had been continuously using abusive language against the plaintiff and her family members and had even called upon her followers to rape the plaintiff and her daughters. Defendant 1 used the platforms namely Instagram (Defendant 2) and YouTube (Defendant 3) to hurl these abuses, threats, and incitement against the plaintiff through live sessions and through recorded videos. It was submitted that the plaintiff was a victim of hate crime due to her success as a well-known celebrity and as a Producer in the Bollywood film industry.
The plaintiff issued Legal Notice upon Defendant 1 to cease and desist from the malicious acts being perpetrated against the plaintiff and her family. Moreover, notices were also served upon Instagram and YouTube to remove hateful content and to restrain Defendant 1 from continuing her hateful acts against the plaintiff. But after receiving the notice, Defendant 1 stepped up her hate speech against the plaintiff and her family. Therefore, the plaintiff approached this Court praying for injunction and damages against Defendant 1.
Submissions on behalf of the Plaintiff
Counsel for the plaintiff submitted that there was a prima facie case in favor of the plaintiff due to the harassment and cyberbullying by Defendant 1 on various social media platforms. Further it was submitted that the plaintiff would suffer irreparable loss and injury if the injunction was not granted in the favor of the plaintiff. Therefore, it was prayed that an ex-parte and ad-interim injunction should be granted against Defendant 1 and directions should be passed to restrain Defendant 1 from accessing her social media platforms, namely, Instagram and YouTube, for posting hateful content against the plaintiff.
Submissions on behalf of the Defendants
It was submitted that instead of a blanket order of taking down all the content against the plaintiff posted by Defendant 1, a specific order be passed containing the specific URLs of the videos that are abusive and hateful against the plaintiff and her family members, and the defendants would be more than willing to take them down.
Analysis, Law, and Decision
The Court noted that the grounds for invocation of in camera proceedings were linked to the reputation of the parties and were likely to be conducted in cases where the circumstances were of such a character that if allowed to be examined in public view might irreparably injure the reputation of the party in the eyes and perception of the public. Therefore, merely because there was no express provision in the Code of Civil Procedure, it does not mean that in-camera proceedings cannot be allowed.
The court further noted that Section 151 of the Code empowered the Court to pass orders necessary for the ends of justice or to prevent abuse of process of Court. The Court relied on Naresh Shridhar Mirajkar v. State of Maharashtra, (1966) 3 SCR 744, wherein the Supreme held that “Section 151 of the Code provided that nothing in this Code shall be deemed to limit or otherwise affect the inherent power of the court to make such orders as may be necessary for the ends of justice or to prevent abuse of the process of the court. These statutory provisions merely illustrated how the power of the Court to hold certain trials in camera, either fully or partially, was inevitably associated with the administration of justice itself”.
The Court held that in appropriate cases, this Court may under Section 151 of the Code pass any order for carrying out the proceedings in camera if warranted by the facts and circumstances of the case. The Court noted that in the present case, where the plaintiff had continuously been receiving vile abuses and threats from Defendant 1 not only to her person, but also to her family members including rape threats to her daughter, it was pertinent that this Court invoked its inherent powers in the interest of justice and to protect the dignity and reputation of women. Therefore, the Court directed that the proceedings should be held in camera before the Joint Registrar.
The Court further opined that a prima facie case was made out against Defendant 1 and accordingly in view of the interests of justice, an ex-parte ad-interim injunction was granted in favour of the plaintiff and against Defendant 1.
The Court passed the following directions:
Defendant 1 was restrained from using any social media platforms, including Instagram and YouTube for making any comments/remarks in relation to the plaintiff herein or her family members till the next date of hearing.
Defendants 2 and 3 were directed to take down the abusive, hateful and any content posted by Defendant 1 on their respective platforms that incites any crime to be committed against the plaintiff or her family members.
The matter would next be listed on 18-7-2023.
[Taru Puri v. Anmol Sheikh alias Malaika, 2023 SCC OnLine Del 1272, decided on 9-2-2023]
Advocates who appeared in this case:
For the Plaintiff: Advocate Payal Balal;
Advocate Gaurav Singh;
Advocate Rajan Rai;
For the Defendants: Advocate Tejas Karia;
Advocate Varun Pathak;
Advocate Shyamal Anand;
Advocate Yash Karunakaran;
Advocate Adya Joshi.
*Judgment authored by: Justice Chandra Dhari Singh.
*Simranjeet Kaur, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.