Setting out a working protocol for the hearings of cases pertaining to the Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, the Bombay High Court has clarified that all such hearings will only be in Chambers or in-camera.
Justice Gautam Patel said that there appear to be no established guidelines so far in such matters and hence this is a first endeavour in that direction.
“Orders/judgments on merits will not be uploaded. Because this order sets out general guidelines and does not address the merits, it is permitted to be uploaded,” said the order of September 24, which got uploaded on September 27. “All orders and judgments will be delivered in private, that is to say, not pronounced in open court but only in Chambers or in-camera.”
The court in its order further clarifies that all persons, including the media, are required to ensure strict compliance with these conditions of anonymity and any failure to do so will be a contempt of court.
The seven-page order further noted that these are only initial guidelines, and will necessarily be subject to revision or modification as needed. “I would suggest that these guidelines are the minimum required,” observed Justice Patel.
The court was hearing a plea filed under the Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013.
The court in its order said that the Registry will not permit anyone other than the Advocate-on-Record with a current and valid vakalatnama to take inspection or copies of any filing or order. Also, the court directed that the entire record is to be kept sealed and is not to be given to any person without an order of the Court.
Keeping the sensitivity of the issue in hand, the court has further directed that only the advocates and the litigants are permitted to attend hearings. Support staff (clerks, peons, etc), must leave the Court. “Except the Court Master/Associate or Sheristedar and the stenographer or person providing secretarial assistance, other Court staff must also leave the court and not be present at the hearing,” said the court in its order.
“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,” observed the court in its order. “All concerned will be bound by these guidelines, and failure to abide by these conditions will also be a contempt of court.”