Time for a new law for non-disclosure of the identity of the accused until proven guilty

The news of a sexual harassment complaint by a woman court staffer against Hon’ble Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi has created a new debate in the country.

The allegations were leaked to the media and while the investigation into the sexual harassment allegations is yet to start the minds of the nation have already started passing a verdict in their mind.

There is no doubt that fair and impartial investigation and trial should be carried out in the present case too, but one should not forget that the fundamental principle of punishment in India is that an accused should be proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt and is convicted only after a fair trial.

 Even Regulation 7.5 of the Medical Council of India Code of Ethics Regulations 2002 defines a professional misconduct only after Conviction by Court of Law (Conviction by a Court of Law for offences involving moral turpitude / Criminal acts). So, any person is innocent unless proved guilty without reasonable doubt.

In the last two decades, The Indian Evidence Act has changed to the extent that in sexual crimes, it is the man who has to prove that he did not commit a sexual crime, and such proof has to be beyond reasonable doubt, which is the yardstick for assessing the evidence in criminal law. Disclosing or publishing the name, picture, video or other details of female and child victims of sexual crimes is strictly prohibited and entails punishment in India.

However, the same is not true for an accused, and the media or any person is free to circulate the details of an accused named in a sexual offence.

An accused may be declared not guilty after a trial. But then it becomes too late as by that time, the name, image and other details have been circulated in the media enough so that he would have suffered an economic and social death penalty. Such persons may lose jobs, their family, reputation, livelihood and in the effect, the very fundamental right to live with dignity as guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.

This course of events is not just confined to sexual harassment cases.

The same holds true for the image of medical professionals. Any public allegation, right or wrong, can destroy the hard-earned reputation of the doctor, much before the verdict is delivered.

Now that the Chief Justice of India is named in a sexual harassment case, it’s time for the constitutional courts to embark upon a new law and provide for non-disclosure of the identity of the accused until proven guilty.

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