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Family law-1

In-camera Proceedings

Table of contents

1. Introduction
2. An over-view
3. Definition
4. Family Court & In-camera proceedings
5. Growing trends in in-camera proceedings
6. Habeas corpus petition, in-camera proceedings
7. Conclusion

In-camera proceedings

Every judicial proceeding undergoes a trial by the court. The normal
course of trial takes place in open-court, where general public have
access of being an audience. The courts are always open to public
observation. It is in this concept, it is said that justice shall not only be
rendered but appears to have been rendered, only then the general
public will repose confidence in the judiciary and its judicial
pronouncements. Every judgment concludes with a phrase
“pronounced in the open court” and thereafter recorded in the
prescribed diaries. It is general that all trials are conducted in open
court. Exception to it is ‘in-camera proceedings’.
In-camera proceedings are normally adopted in matrimonial
proceedings. A further development is trial in ‘rape’ cases. The
rationale behind it is to avoid embarrassment for the witness when
subjected to undesirable cross- examination touching the modesty of

An over-view
In camera is a Latin phrase meaning “in private” or “in chambers”
and it is used in law to refer to proceedings conducted without public
access. While many legal systems place an emphasis on holding trial
proceedings in public whenever possible, there can be special situations
where proceedings need to be held confidentially. A judge can make a
decision to hear an entire trial in camera, or to review certain
arguments, documents, and evidence in private, while leaving other
parts of the trial open to the public.
When the legal system generally requires trials to be held in public,
clear justifications must be provided for moving proceedings to a
private location. A common argument is a concern about national
security in cases where evidence heard before the public could present
a security threat. Companies may also request hearings in camera to
protect trade secrets, under the argument that being forced to disclose
such information in public is damaging and unfair. Confidentiality may
also be extended to protect witnesses, including people at risk for their
testimony, and young children who might be upset by being in a
crowded court-room with strangers.

Aiyar’s judicial dictionary defines ‘camera’ as the judges ‘private
room behind the court’. Cases are sometimes heard by ‘in-camera’
especially in divorce matters or those in which pardanashin ladies are
to appear.

The Muslim’s have a tradition not to appear in public and
honouring their personal customs such as option is given to them.

A trial is said to take place in camera when the public is excluded
from the court. Wharton’s law lexicon states that no criminal trial can
take place in-camera, certain kinds of civil actions in the Chancery
Division are heard in camera i.e. cases concerning secret processes of
In a trial under the Official Secrets Act, by the 1920 Act, section 8,
the public may be excluded during part of the hearing( in certain cases)
but the verdict must be pronounced in public.
By the Children and Young Persons Act, 1933 Sec. 37,

1. Aiyar’s judicial dictionary 11
edition p. 213.
2. Wharton’s law lexicon 14
edition p. 157.
the judge is empowered to clear the court while a child or young
person is giving evidence in the case of an offence against decency or
morality, and all persons may be excluded except officers of the court,
parties, counsel, or certain newspaper representatives.
In Juvenile courts, the general publics also are not admitted to
these courts, but bonafide representatives of the press cannot be
The phrase ‘in-camera proceedings’ is defined in Black’s law
dictionary as Trial or Hearing held in a place not open to the public such
as judge’s lobby or chambers.

Family Courts Act 1984 has laid down the procedure of in-
camera proceedings. One of the objectives of the Family Courts Act is
to simplify the rules of evidence and procedure so as to enable a family
court to deal effectively with a dispute.
Family Court & In-camera proceedings
Section-11 of Family Courts Act:
Proceedings to be held in-camera

1. Black’s law dictionary, 6
edition p. 760

In every suit or proceedings to which this act applies, the
proceedings may be held in-camera if the family court so desires
and shall be so held if either party so desires.

A reading of this provision envisages two vital aspects:
1. It is made optional and discretionary for the family court for
resorting to in-camera proceedings.
2. On the contrary, if both parties to the proceedings opt for in-
camera proceedings, it is made mandatory for the family courts
to take recourse to in-camera proceedings.

Growing trends in in-camera proceedings

Mediation and alternative dispute resolution evolved in
the judicial making process has further contributed to the
concept of in-camera proceedings. In the mediation and
reconciliation process, a kind of in-camera proceedings has
emerged over the years.
In the mediation process, the parties alone participate
in the presence of mediator. Thus, excluding the audience of
general public. Needless to state, excepting the mediator no
other officer or convener will have access to the proceedings.
Stricto senso, mediation may not bring in its sweep in the
definition of proceedings. Nevertheless, the result reached
thereby, ultimately becomes proceedings.

In the process of reconciliation also, in-camera
proceedings are resorted to. The presence of strangers would
totally find absent reconciliation process.

Arbitration is yet another avenue where in-camera
proceedings are normally adapted. It has been already stated,
in-camera proceedings, in depth and substance, is the absence
of public. This objective is well achieved in arbitral proceedings,
where the parties and the arbitrator would find place. The
presence of counsel is in accordance with the wishes of the

Habeas corpus petition, in-camera proceedings

In non-statutory habeas corpus petition filed under
Article 226 of constitution of India, where sensitive matters are
involved, the Hon’ble judges of High court, at times, resort to
hearing the parties in-camera, to facilitate parties to express
their intention fearlessly. The only object is to have the
intention of the parties revealed without an amount of fear
and un-influenced by outsiders. The latest Habeas corpus
petition dealt with the Hon’ble division of Madras High court in
the much debated romantic-tragedy of the case of Illavarasan
and Dhivya of Dharmapuri did not spare to adapt in-camera

In most of the children custodial matters too, in-camera
proceedings are quite often undertaken, despite there being no
rigid law on this aspect.

In camera proceedings have their own advantages
and disadvantages. The very purpose of Evidence Act is to
thread-bare denude the witness to speak truth. This aspect can
well be achieved only if one is examined and cross-examined in
open court. At the same breadth, it cannot be ruled out honest
witnesses may themselves confess and confide truth in privacy,
than in open court. The Family Courts Act also recognizes
arbitral procedure. The growing trends in alternative dispute
resolution would ultimately alleviate the open - court
examination and cross-examination of witnesses and the
success of in-camera proceedings will then be felt.


1. Aiyar’s judicial dictionary 11
edition p. 213.
2. Wharton’s law lexicon 14
edition p. 157.
3. Black’s law dictionary, 6
edition p. 760.
4. Family Courts Act.
5. Constitution of India.