National Security, Privacy, Data Protection and Retention, Protection of Sources, Surveillance
Ben Meir v. Prime Minister
Closed Mixed Outcome
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An Indian High Court refused to order the removal of a judgment from a website which offers free access to Indian court judgments and legal materials. An individual, seeking to migrate to Australia, had requested that the website remove the judgment in which he had been acquitted of various serious criminal offences, including murder and kidnapping, because its publication meant it was freely accessible on the internet and could harm his personal and professional life. The Court held that judgments are matters of public record and that – even when they have been marked as non-reportable for the formal law reports – third parties are always permitted to access judgments and other materials related to legal cases. The Court held that the individual had not demonstrated any reasons why the website should remove the judgment, and so dismissed the individual’s request for an order of removal.
In 2004, an Indian national, Dharamraj Bhanushankar Dave, was charged with various offences under the Indian Penal Code, 1860, including murder, kidnapping, common intention, criminal conspiracy, tampering with evidence and the misappropriation of property. On November 19, 2004, after a trial, the Jamnagar Sessions Court acquitted Dave of the charges. The State appealed the judgment but on October 30, 2007, the Gujarat High Court confirmed the acquittal.
In 2015, Dave wished to migrate to Australia and discovered that the High Court judgment had been published by IndianKanoon.com (an online database of judgments) and was now freely available on the internet, despite the judgment having been marked as “non-reportable”. Dave unsuccessfully approached IndianKanoon.com and Google India to remove the judgment from the website.
Dave then approached the Gujurat High Court, seeking an order to direct IndianKanoon and Google India to “enable permanent restrain of free public exhibition of the judgment”. The case was brought against the State of Gujarat, the Registrar General of the High Court of Gujarat, the Union of India, IndianKanoon.com and Google India.
The judgment was delivered by Justice R.M. Chhaya, as a single-bench judgment of the High Court of Gujarat at Ahmedabad. The primary question before the Court was whether it should order IndianKanoon.com and Google India to take down the judgment from their platforms.
Dave argued that IndianKanoon.com and Google India had wrongly published the non-reportable judgment because it was the “exclusive domain of [the Court] Registrar” to publish judicial orders and IndianKanoon.com had no authority to publicly exhibit non-reportable orders [para.4]. The publication on IndianKanoon.com meant that the judgment was freely available on the internet, and Dave submitted that this harmed his personal and professional life.
Google India argued that it was not connected with the publication of the judgment because it was an “automated search engine” and thus it was not in a position both as a “legal or technical matter” to comply with the order sought by Dave [para. 6].
The Court stated that, under Rule 151 of the Gujarat High Court Rules, 1993, the High Court was a Court of Record and thus its judgments could be made available. It noted that even third parties could make applications to the Court’s Assistant Registrar to access copies of judgments and other documents. In addition, the Court highlighted that when a Court marks a judgment as “non-reportable”, it does so in the context of the publication of the judgment in law reports, and that publishing a judgment on an online website does not amount to “reporting” a judgment [para. 7].
The Court also found that Dave had failed to show that any legal provisions under existing law had been implicated or that his right to life and liberty – protected by article 21 of the Constitution – had been infringed.
Accordingly, the Court dismissed the petition and refused to order the removal of the judgment from the internet.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
Although indirectly protecting the rights of freedom of expression (through publication of court judgments) and access to information (through the ability to freely access court judgments online), the Court did not engage in a thorough analysis of the right to be forgotten and did not weigh an individual’s right to privacy against the right to freedom of expression.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
As a judgment of the High Court of Gujarat, the judgment is binding for all authorities and lower courts in the state of Gujarat.
Let us know if you notice errors or if the case analysis needs revision.