Courts Update Right to be forgotten: Delhi High Court directs Indian...

Right to be forgotten: Delhi High Court directs Indian Kanoon to block judgement of U.S. citizen’s acquittal

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New Delhi, May 25 (ILNS): The Delhi High Court today granted the wish of a petitioner to be “forgotten” on the internet, by providing him interim protection and directing the website Indian Kanoon to block the judgment of his acquittal under NDPS Act from being accessed through search engines such as Google, Yahoo etc. This order is till the next date of hearing, which is August 20.

The petitioner, a US citizen of Indian origin (Jorawar Singh Mundy), had said that as a lawyer in the US he was finding it difficult to find a job because this case reference was coming up in searches by prospective employees. This verdict is a classic case of the enforcement of the right to be forgotten, with the fundamental right of privacy.

The court’s direction came in the question of right to privacy against the right to information of the public and of maintenance of transparency in judicial records. The order was passed by Justice Pratibha Singh.

The court said: “The question as to whether a court order can be removed from online platforms is an issue which requires examination of both the Right to Privacy of the Petitioner on the one hand and the Right to Information of the public and maintenance of transparency in judicial records on the other. The said legal issues would have to be adjudicated by the court.

“It is the admitted position that the petitioner was ultimately acquitted of the said charges in the case levelled against him. Owing to the irreparable prejudice which may be caused to the Petitioner, his social life and his career prospects, in spite of the Petitioner having ultimately been acquitted in the said case via the said judgment, prima facie the Court is of the opinion that the Petitioner is entitled to some interim protection, while the legal issues are pending adjudication by the Court.”

The Court ordered: “Accordingly, Respondents are directed to remove the said judgment dated January 29, 2013, titled Custom v. Jorawar Singh Mundy from their search results. Respondents Indian Kanoon is directed to block the said judgment from being accessed by using search engines such as Google/Yahoo etc., till the next date of hearing,” the court added.

The petitioner wanted this case reference to be removed from the respondents’ platforms i.e. Google, Indian Kanoon and vLex.in. the petitioner said he is a professional of Indian origin but an American citizen by birth. He claims to be managing investments and dealing with portfolios of real estate etc. When he travelled in 2009 to India, a case under the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, was lodged against him.

However, finally judgment dated April 30, 2011 the trial court had acquitted him of all the charges. An appeal was filed challenging this order of the trial court, and judgment dated January 29, 2013, a Single Judge of the Court upheld his acquittal in titled Custom v. Jorawar Singh Mundy.

Thereafter, the petitioner is stated to have travelled back to the United States and pursued law at the University of San Diego School of Law. He then realised that he is facing a huge disadvantage due to the fact that the judgment rendered by the Court was available on a Google search to any potential employer, who wanted to conduct his background verification before employing him.

According to the petitioner, despite him having had a good academic record, he is unable to get any employment to his expectations, and the reason for the same, according to him, is the availability of this judgment online.

The petitioner then issued a legal notice to Respondents i.e. Google India Private Ltd., Google LLC, Indian Kanoon and vLex.in. Respondents i.e. vLex.in is stated to have removed the said judgment, however, the other platforms have not yet removed the same.

The prayer in the Petition is thus to directed the removal of the said judgment from all the Respondent platforms, recognizing the Right to Privacy of the Petitioner, under Article 21 of the Constitution.

Shivalakshi, Counsel for the respondents submitted that if the court directs the removal of the said judgment, MEITY would accordingly issue directions to the said Respondents platforms.

The Right to Privacy is well recognized by the Supreme Court in the Constitution Bench judgment in  K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India (2017) 10 SCC1 recognising the right to privacy and also judgment given by the Orissa High Court in the case of  Subhranshu Rout v. State of Odisha decided on November 23, 2020 wherein the Cout examined the aspect and applicability of the “Right to be forgotten” qua Right to Privacy including the international law, the Court prima facie observed that the Petitioner was entitled to some interim protection. ILNS/AP/SS

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