Updated on: Wednesday, January 05, 2022, 09:39 PM IST

FPJ Legal: Bombay HC order of gag on media from reporting POSH cases challenged before Supreme Court


The Bombay High Court’s order which practically imposed gag order on media from reporting cases under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) POSH Act Has been challenged before the Supreme Court stating that it will not only help “powerful corporates to supress women’s voices” but also “delivers a deathblow to the freedom of Speech and Expression” as contemplated under the Constitution of India.

The plea has been filed in the Supreme Court by the woman, through advocate Abha Singh, seeking quashing of the Bombay HC order saying that, the order, in the form or guidelines can be “used as a tool by powerful corporations to allow sexual harassment of women at the workplace, violate the provisions of the POSH Act and also suppress the voice of aggrieved women with the help of such orders”.

The HC, on September 24, 2021, had laid down guidelines which said that POSH cases would be heard in-camera and the orders in such cases were not to be uploaded on HC website. Besides, all parties, including the victim was restrained from disclosing the details to media. Media, in turn, was barred from reporting such cases without prior permission from the court.

Seeking stay on the HC order, the plea states that it “suffers from grave illegalities”. It further says that the order unduly extends protection of prior restraint and anonymity of identity to large corporates, and sets a dangerous precedent.

It further states that the HC failed to consider that in matters of social justice and women empowerment, public discourse play a crucial role in shaping the nature of legal entitlement that are delivered to women.

Stating that “free press is an integral pillar of democracy”, the plea says such a blanket order on media will also encroach upon the people's right to know and violates their right to information.

“This will have a devastating and detrimental effect on the society at large. The judiciary is the dispenser of justice and the catalyst for social reforms,” reads the plea adding that such a gag would pave way for complete secrecy regarding the case.

“An open court proceeding ensures that the judicial process is subject to public scrutiny. Public scrutiny is crucial to maintaining transparency and accountability. Transparency in the functioning of democratic institutions is crucial to establish the public's faith in them,” it adds.

Apart from hiding identities of the all the parties, including that of the accused, the HC had said that POSH cases would be heard in person, and not through video conferencing. “Conducting the proceedings physically and in-camera, certified copies have also been restricted, there is an absolute bar on media reporting, copies of Orders are not permitted to be uploaded on the HC website or third party platforms inter alia. This has absolutely choked access to justice of the Petitioner, who is expected to appear in person for every appearance even when other litigants have the option to appear online,” reads the plea.

Seeking quashing of the HC order, the plea reads: “The Hon'ble Court has failed to consider that often it is the lone voice of one aggrieved woman, pitted against the large corporates, their vast influence and their powerful male seniors or bosses.”

The HC had passed the order while hearing a suit filed by a woman seeking compensation for her wrongful and stigmatic termination after she accused one of the employers, who was also a director in the company, of sexual harassment. She had lodged a complaint with the Internal. Complaints Committee (ICC) which ruled in favour of the director. She has challenged the finding of the ICC before the appropriate Tribunal.

(To receive our E-paper on whatsapp daily, please click here. We permit sharing of the paper's PDF on WhatsApp and other social media platforms.)

Published on: Wednesday, January 05, 2022, 09:41 PM IST