Maintain confidentiality of sensitive documents [Confidential]

While hearing an appeal under Section 19 of the Family Courts Act, 1984 which is directed against the order dated 5th June 2015 passed by the Principal Judge, Family Court, Saket, Division Bench of Honourable High Court of Delhi constituted by S. Muralidhar and I.S. Mehta JJ, dealt with a serious issue of infringement of Right to Privacy.

It was a case where the attorneys produced very sensitive documents such as personal diary of the children of the parties to this case. However, court was of the opinion that, contents of the document reflect inter alia the very private and personal feelings and opinions of a young child about his parents, sibling, friends and relatives. It is not something which should be casually placed in the public domain as it is bound to violate the right to privacy of not only the author of the ‘personal diary’ but others whose names and conduct find mention therein and is likely to affect the author’s relationships with them. Accordingly court issued following directions;

  1. Where a party in a case seeks to rely upon a document (sensitive documents) which in his or her assessment or the assessment of the party’s lawyer is of a sensitive nature, viz., which contains details of a personal or private nature concerning a party or a person or their conduct, which when disclosed is likely to affect the right to privacy, or cause embarrassment, then such party and/or the lawyer of such party will first apply to the Court seeking leave to produce such document in a sealed cover. Till such time that leave is granted the contents of the said document shall not be extracted in the pleadings or a copy of the whole or part thereof enclosed with the petition. For this purpose a document would include any writing, private letters, notings, photographs, and documents in electronic form including video clips, text messages, chat details, emails, printed copies thereof, CCTV footage
  2. Where upon a party applying under (i) above, or where any other party, or the Family Court on its own, comes across a document on record in the case which is prima facie of a sensitive nature, viz., which contains details of a personal or private nature concerning a party or a person or their conduct, which when disclosed is likely to affect the right to privacy, or cause embarrassment, the Family Court will pass appropriate orders concerning the said document including providing copies thereof to the parties, preserving the originals or copies as the case may be in a sealed cover, de-sealing for being produced during Court proceedings and re-sealing after the purpose for which they are directed to be produced is over.
  3. The Family Court will also bind down by specific directions, the parties and their respective lawyers, and the Court staff regarding the making of copies, use, preservation and dissemination of such document with a view to maintaining its confidentiality. The Family Court can also pass necessary directions to specify the conditions upon which access would be permitted to such document by third parties.
  4. The Family Court will endeavour to decide on the issues at (i) (ii) and (iii) above, without unnecessary delay, in accordance with law. The above directions are in the nature of broad guidelines and can be suitably modified and adapted/applied to a given situation by the Family Court. The Family Court will, however, at all times keep in view the requirements of protecting the rights to privacy and dignity of the parties and persons.
  5. The Family Court should as far as possible and practicable invoke the power under Section 11 of the Family Courts Act 1984 and hold the proceedings in camera. Where the circumstances so warrant, the Family Court may in the orders uploaded on the website or made available otherwise, suitably anonymize the names of the parties.

Court further made it clear that, unless there is a specific order of the Family Court, or where the party thinks it to be absolutely essential, or where suitable alternative arrangements are unable to be made, parties should avoid bringing children to the Family Court on a routine basis. Lawyers should also advise their clients in this regard since repeated visits to Courts to witness the legal contests between and among parents and relatives is not desirable or conducive for the healthy development of children.

Read the full judgment of X v. Z, MAT.APP.(F.C.) 78/2015, decided on June 11, 2015 (Delhi High Court)