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Not necessary to disclose identity of rape, sexual assault victims to arouse public opinion: SC

The Supreme Court Tuesday said it is not necessary to disclose the identity of victims of rape and sexual assault to "arouse public opinion and sentiment" as these issues need to be dealt with sensitively.

A bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta said this while refusing to agree with an argument that in certain matters, the victim's name should be allowed to be disclosed as her name and face could become a "rallying point" to prevent other such sexual offences.

It was also argued before the court that in such a case, the victim becomes a symbol of protest or is treated as an iconic figure.

"We are also of the considered view that it is not at all necessary to disclose the identity of the victim to arouse public opinion and sentiment. This is a serious issue dealing with victims of heinous sexual offences and needs to be dealt with sensitivity," the bench said.

Referring to the infamous December 16, 2012 gangrape and murder case in Delhi, the bench said: "All of us are fully aware that without disclosing her true identity 'Nirbhaya' became the most effective symbol of protest the country has ever known.

"If a campaign has to be started to protect the rights of the victim and mobilise public opinion it can be done so without disclosing her identity."

In its judgement, the bench said that the name and identity of victims of rape and sexual assault, including those who had died, cannot be disclosed "even in a remote manner".

It termed as "unfortunate" that such victims were being treated as "untouchable" by the society.

The court said there may be cases where identity of such a victim, if not her name, may have to be disclosed and there may be cases also where dead body of a victim, who was raped, was found.

"Even here, we would direct that while this may be done, the fact that such victim has been subjected to a sexual offence need not be disclosed," the bench said.

The court also said however that nobody can have any objection to the victim disclosing her name as long as she is a major and has taken a decision regarding this voluntarily.

Regarding in-camera proceedings in court in such cases, the bench said the media can report that some witnesses were examined but they "cannot report what transpired inside the court or what was the statement of victim or the witnesses. The evidence cannot be disclosed".

The court said in case a victim files an appeal under section 372 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) against either acquittal of accused or enhancement of sentence imposed upon him, it would not be necessary for him or her to disclose the identity.

The bench also stressed upon the need to have child-friendly courts across the country.

"Children and women, especially those who have been subjected to sexual assault are virtually overwhelmed by the atmosphere in the courts. They are scared. They are so nervous that they, sometimes, are not even able to describe the nature of the crime accurately," the bench noted.

Referring to the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, the bench said its provision "enjoins" on the special court to ensure that there is child friendly atmosphere in the court.

"These (child friendly) courts need not only be used for trying cases under the POCSO but can also be used as trial courts for trying cases of rape against women," it said.

The court also said police should ensure that the correspondence or memos exchanged or issued, wherein the name of the victim is disclosed, are kept in a sealed cover and are not disclosed to the public at large.

"They should not be disclosed to the media and they shall also not be furnished to any person under the Right to Information Act, 2015," the bench said.

The court had earlier agreed to examine the provisions of law which provide curbs and balances for media in reporting incidents of sexual assault, including that of minors, after a complaint that there have been "regular violation" of such provisions.

The issue had cropped up when the court was hearing a batch of petitions filed after the rape and murder of a paramedic student on December 16, 2012 in New Delhi to support the initiatives on women's safety across the country.