Statutory Guidelines and Restrictions on Publishing Judgements

Jul2,2020 #Judgements

By Nicole Karen Gomez

An individual is frequently evaluated based on their ability to make judgments. In law, judgment also spelled judgement is the decision or sentence of law given by a Court of justice or other competent authorities such as a Tribunal, regarding rights and liabilities of parties in a legal action or proceeding. The judgement generally includes the judge or jury’s explanation of why the particular conclusion or order is delivered. The terms order and judgement are repetitively interchanged but there exists a significant difference. An order is a decree from court commanding a specific party to do an explicit act and a judgement is the final outcome of the court in a particular matter.

Courts exist to ensure justice by enhancing social order through the resolution of disputes. Well-functioning courts guarantee liberty and provide equal protection for all, following the due process of law and maintaining the rule of law. The honourable courts of various jurisdictions rule on matters that come before them after much deliberation and consideration. The decisions undertaken by the courts are then considered as the law of the land. It is further made available for all the citizens and residents of the locales to read, understand and follow. When a similar matter arises in the future, the judgements passed earlier are referred to by the courts and advocates as the present legal system is based on legal precedent. Verdicts of the courts are of dynamic nature and changes over time to best serve the evolving needs of the society.

The Courts these days publish their judgements and orders through several platforms such as the official website and digests or journals issued weekly, monthly and yearly. The Judgement Information system (JUDIS) consists of the Judgements of the Supreme Court of India and numerous High Courts. The judgements are utilized by different individuals who create compilations and law reports, news publications, academic research and other modes of publication. The underlying purpose being it is in public interest to place judgements in public domain. But what is the legality of the same?

The Section 52(1)(q)(iv) of the Copyright Act, 1957 states that the publication of Court judgements does not constitute as an infringement of Copyright. In R. Rajagopal v. State Of T.N[1] on 7 October, 1994 where the Supreme Court of India defined the scope of the Right to Privacy, it held that publication of Court records will not constitute any violation of the right to privacy by stating:

“The rule aforesaid is subject to the exception, that any publication concerning the aforesaid aspects becomes unobjectionable if such publication is based upon public records including court records. This is for the reason that once a matter becomes a matter of public record, the right to privacy no longer subsists and it becomes a legitimate subject for comment by press and media among others. We are, however, of the opinion that in the interests of decency Article 19(2) an exception must be carved out to this rule, viz., a female who is the victim of a sexual assault, kidnap, abduction or a like offence should not further be subjected to the indignity of her name and the incident being publicised in press/media.”

Unless the reproduction or publication of a judgement or order is prohibited by the Court, Tribunal or other judicial authority from copyright, it may be published. But as mentioned in the above case, there are exceptions to the rule of judgement publication. If the case is pertaining to family matters, it may be exempted from being made available on public domains. Some instances being:

  • Divorce,
  • Maintenance,
  • Child adoption and
  • Child custody.

Further, case proceedings of matters limited to:

  • Sexual assault,
  • Kidnap,
  • Abduction,
  • Juveniles and

Matters that have potential to affect the dignity of victim, the details would be maintained confidential. Suits that concern National security and interests, social security numbers and financial account numbers are added exceptions. Although, the cases of the Supreme Court of India will not be blocked from public access whatsoever the matter may be. The same was reinstated in innumerable cases and precisely on 23 November 2016 when Supreme Court bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi and N V Ramana ruled that no one could have copyright over the judgements delivered by the apex court. It could be reproduced in its raw form by anyone without risk of being accused of infringing copyright, thus settling a long-standing dispute.

Crime dramas have an increasing popularity in recent times. With the releases by the media and film industry, it has become difficult to distinguish between theories and facts. Although it has inculcated interest among the public to express their views and opinions on the matters addressed, the phenomenon raises questions about public records. Without public access to court records, these cases could not have been so widely discussed and dissected. Public perception of court cases affects change regarding those cases which aids in the development of society. But public opinion and interest can often negatively impact the privacy and result in undue influence of court proceedings and court records. However, they are incredibly valued. Due to right to information and access recognized through the Right to Information Act, 2005, citizens are granted insight to the working of the court and court records. Public access to records and proceedings holds the courts accountable for errors, oversights, and injustices and instead offers perfect transparency and promotes democracy. Ultimately, this assists in elevating our justice system to the highest standard of accuracy and integrity.


[1] R. Rajagopal v. State Of T.N 1995 AIR 264

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