Right to be forgotten does not exist in case of court judgments, rules Madras HC

THE Madras High Court Tuesday dismissed a petition filed by a person who was convicted and sentenced by a trial court but later acquitted by the high court, seeking to redact his name from the court’s judgment citing the right to privacy and dignity.

The “right to be forgotten” cannot exist in the sphere of the administration of justice particularly in the context of judgments delivered by courts, a single-judge bench of Justice N. Anand Venkatesh said, opining, however, that there needed to be a proper policy formulated in this regard through specific rules.

“In other words, some basic criteria or parameters must be fixed, failing which, such an exercise will lead to utter confusion… It will be more appropriate to await the enactment of the Data Protection Act and Rules thereunder, which may provide an objective criterion while dealing with the plea of redaction of names of accused persons who are acquitted from criminal proceedings”, the judge held.

The judge warned that if such uniform standards are not followed across the country, the constitutional courts would be riding an unruly horse which will prove to be counterproductive to the existing system.

Referring to the argument of the petitioner that the continued reflection of his name as an accused in the judgment of the high court violated his right to privacy under Article 21 of the Constitution or more specifically, its subset, the right to be forgotten, the high court observed that as per the settled law, a judicial order of a court cannot violate a person’s fundamental rights under Part III of the Constitution.

The high court said it was a Court of Record under Article 215 of the Constitution. As a superior Court of Record, it is entitled to preserve the original record in perpetuity.

“The sanctity of an original record cannot be altered or otherwise dealt with except in a manner prescribed by law”, it held.