After expressing a prima facie view that accused persons have a right to have their name redacted from court orders and judgments on acquittal, the Madras High Court changed its view to ultimately concluding that the right to be forgotten cannot exist when it comes to court judgments.
Referring to his earlier view that was contrary to the eventual order, Justice N Anand Venkatesh said the court was initially inclined towards the right to privacy, right of reputation and right to live with dignity being read to have a wide scope. “However, on a deeper review of the issue, this court has taken cognisance of the fact that the same is not as simple and straight as it sounded."
Pointing out that there may be unintended ramifications if such a generalised order was passed and that there were finer aspects that have to be considered, failing which the matter may open the flood gates, the judge said: "Right to be forgotten cannot exist in the sphere of administration of justice, particularly in the context of judgments delivered by courts.
“There is no use in redacting names in the final judgment or final order when there are prior publications tarnishing the name of the accused,” the court had held on obtaining the views of the bar on the issue.
The court also took note of amicus curiae Arun Anbumani’s submission that while the court's focus in this case has been drawn to the final judgment or order of acquittal, the "damage to reputation or dignity" of any accused may begin from the day a complaint is registered or when the accused is remanded in custody.
In such a situation wherein there is a publication at every stage, it may be the order or judgment of acquittal that saves the honour of a person whose name has already been tarnished due to earlier publications that are readily available on search engines, the amicus pointed out.
The court also recorded the bar’s submission that India does not have a system as available in the United States of America, where the entire records of an accused person who is acquitted can be expunged or completely destroyed through a court order.