In an important order, the Bombay High Court has practically put a restrain on the media from reporting cases under the Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (POSH Act) without getting specific permission from the court.
Justice Gautam Patel, on September 24, issued guidelines regarding hearings in cases related to POSH and its reporting in the media. A copy of the order was made available on September 27.
“Both sides and all parties and advocates, as also witnesses, are forbidden from disclosing the contents of any order, judgment or filing to the media or publishing any such material in any mode or fashion by any means, including social media, without specific leave of the court,” said justice Patel in the order.
The court has also directed the witnesses in the case, in addition to the usual oath, to “sign a statement of non-disclosure and confidentiality”. Those failing to abide by these guidelines, will be held in contempt of court. The order reads, “All concerned will be bound by these guidelines, and failure to abide by these conditions will also be a contempt of court.”
The guidelines state that POSH cases will be heard either in-camera or in the judge's chambers. In addition, the orders in these cases are not to be passed in open court and should not be uploaded on the official HC website either, said Justice Patel.
For in-camera hearings, the judge said only the advocates and litigants would be permitted to attend hearings. For the court’s assistance, the Court Master/Associate or Sheristedar and stenographer or person providing secretarial assistance will be allowed to remain present during the hearing. Others including the support staff (clerks, peons, etc), and other court staff will have to leave court room.
The judge has also laid down guidelines regarding the format of orders in POSH cases, filing protocols, grant of access by the registry, conducting hearings, directions to the certified copy department, public access and breach.
Noting that at present, there were no guidelines related to such cases and hence these guidelines were a “minimum requirement”.