Father of the Kerala-based woman, Hadiya, who had converted to Islam after marriage, had requested the Supreme Court to conduct the proceedings in-camera to which the court refused on Wednesday. The court at first had passed an order in favour of in-camera proceedings and later directed to hear the case in an open court.
What are in-camera proceedings?
In-camera proceeding is used in sensitive cases essentially to protect the privacy of the parties. Simply put, ‘in-camera’ proceeding is a proceeding carried out in private, in the absence of the public and the press. Essentially the proceedings are conducted through video conferencing to safeguard the privacy and protection of the accused. The public and the media are excluded from such proceedings for the purposes of sensitivity.
In-camera proceeding is an exception to the rule of an open court. An open court or open justice is when a case is heard in the presence of the people and the press, who would report the cases to the public. The usual course of a proceeding is an open court. In-camera proceedings are done rarely, in exceptional cases when the court deems fit.
Section 327 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 has laid down the kinds of cases that should be recorded on camera, including rape, case of intercourse with wife during separation, rape that could lead the victim to be in a vegetative state, gang rapes and men in authority like a public servant committing rape.
In-camera proceeding is usually conducted in cases of matrimonial disputes including judicial separation, divorce proceedings, impotency and more such cases.
Recently in October, 2017 while hearing a transfer petition, the CJI bench ruled that matrimonial disputes may have to be conducted in camera. The court opined that the decision to conduct in-camera proceedings should be left to the family courts. Not drawing a hard and fast rule, the court further said that reasons to conduct an in-camera proceeding can depend on case-to-case analysis.
On the other hand, open court allows the public to inspect the case and make an opinion. This system functions on the principles of natural justice i.e. right to hearing and right against bias and only when there is access to the court proceedings, will laws be amended to suit the structure of the current society.
Here are a few examples where the exception was applied to the rule.
Rape case against Asaram Bapu: In the rape allegations against the religious leader, Asaram Bapu, a court in Gandhinagar had ordered proceedings to be conducted in-camera in May 2017. In order to protect the witnesses, the court decided to maintain the privacy of the case. “From now on, the witnesses will be examined in-camera owing to the risk to their life,” the court held.
Asaram along with his wife, daughter and four women followers were charged with illegal confinement and rape of a Surat-based girl. Asaram’s son was accused of committing rape of the sister of the victim.
December 16, 20012 gangrape: While hearing the case of a 23-year-old woman who was brutally raped by six men in a bus, a Delhi court ordered the proceedings to be conducted in-camera. Except the six charged with rape, the rest were kept out of the proceedings including the lawyers.
Impotency case: A husband and wife based out of Kerala sought divorce on the ground of incapacity of performance by the husband. In course of the divorce proceedings, the wife also filed for an in-camera proceeding to maintain the privacy of herself and her family.
Domestic violence proceeding against Leander Paes: Rhea Pillai had filed a petition against her husband Leander Paes alleging domestic violence before the Bandra Metropolitan Magistrate court. The court noted that cross-examination was of a “personal nature” and part of the proceedings were conducted in-camera.
Rape allegation against Tarun Tejpal: Accused of raping a female colleague in an event hosted by the magazine in Goa in 2013, a sessions court in Mapusa agreed to hold an in-camera proceeding . The judge allowed Tarun Tejpal, his family members and counsel representing Tejpal to be part of the proceeding.