Dharamraj Bhanushankar Dave v. State of Gujarat

Read this interesting case to find out what happened when judgement published on Indian Kanoon website were indexed by Google which made the results public at large.
CITATION2015 SCC OnLineGuj 2019
COURTHigh Court of Gujarat
JUDGES/CORAMJustice R.M. Chhaya
DATE OF JUDGEMENT19.01.2017

Introduction

The Gujarat High Court recently defined the exact meaning of the word “reportable” in the case of Dharamraj Bhanushankar Dave v. State of Gujarat[1]. The issue arose due to popular legal website, Indian Kanoon publishing “reportable” and “non-reportable” judgments on its website and Google search engine, subsequently indexing the content making it visible in its search results and ultimately to the public at large.

Facts

The facts of the case are as follows: The petitioner was recently acquitted in a criminal case of the Gujarat High Court itself in Criminal Appeal No. 1691 of 2005 and the same was stated as “non-reportable.” The same was however, published by Indian Kanoon on its website and made available via Google search engine. Aggrieved, the petitioner filed the present suit seeking issuance of directions against the respondents from publishing and making the judgment available on the internet.

Issues

The main issue in the case was: Whether or not the said judgment could be published online?

Arguments by the Petitioner

The Ld. Counsel on behalf of the petitioner submitted that the judgment being “non-reportable” could not be published online as the same had affected the personal and professional life of the petitioner. To buttress this it was stated that only the Registrar of the respective court had the exclusive authority to publish judgements and the same did not lie with Indian Kanoon and Google.

Arguments by the Respondents

The Ld. Counsel for Google i.e. Respondent no. 5 stated that Google Search was an automated search engine, which used software known as “crawlers” to crawl the internet on a regular basis and thus, by this way added sites to its index. It was also contended that Google India was in no way connected to the publication and that it was in no position to comply with orders in both legal and technical respects. Indian Kanoon proceeded ex-parte throughout.

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Summary of court decision and judgment

Hon’ble Justice R.M. Chhaya observed that the High Court was a court of record and under Rule 151 of the Gujarat High Court Rules, 1993 and copies of any civil or criminal judgment could be provided. The Rules also went on to state that the copies of a judgment could not be given to any third parties without the order of the Assistant Registrar. In the event of a third party seeking a judgment, an affidavit was to be submitted stating the grounds of requirement of judgment, this provision could be dispensed of in case the request was made by the Union of India, any State government or any foreign government.

The Hon’ble Court went on to say that, a judgment in appeal was a part of the proceedings and mere publication on a website would not amount to the same being reported as the word “reportable” used for the judgment in relation to it being reported in a law reporter. The petition was thus, disposed off. This judgment is another instance of the courts being asked to intervene by parties to have information about them delisted or erased from search engines.

Analysis

The present decision deals with recently emerged right to be forgotten embedded in the data protection laws by the judgment rendered by the European Court of Justice in the landmark case of Google v. Mario Costeja, wherein Google had been ordered to remove the links related to Mario Costeja on its website, and “right to be forgotten” or “Right to delink” was effectively read into the existing EU data protection law. Right to delink, broadly, provides that an individual may be allowed to control the information available about them on the web, by demanding removal of such information in certain situations.

Conclusion

In contrast to the present decision Karnataka High Court in 2017 ruled in favor of the petitioner. In this case, the petitioner’s daughter instituted both criminal and civil proceedings against a person. However, later they arrived at a compromise and one of the conditions was quashing all the proceedings which had been initiated. The petitioner had raised concerns about the appearance of his daughter’s name in the cause title and was easily searchable. The court, while making vague references to “trend in the Western countries where they follow this as a matter of rule “Right to be forgotten” in sensitive cases involving women in general and highly sensitive cases involving rape or affecting the modesty and reputation of the person concerned, held in the petitioner’s favor, and order that the name be redacted from the cause title and the body of the order before releasing to any service provider.

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In 2016, the European Union released the final version of the General Data Protection Regulation. The regulation provides for a right to erasure under Article 17, which would enable a data-subject to seek deletion of data. Even Data Protection Bill of 2018 also embodies the right to be forgotten.


[1] Dharamraj Bhanushankar Dave v. State Of Gujarat SCA 1854 of 2015.