“The circular has created misunderstanding that parties to matrimonial dispute cannot go for counselling before approaching the court. We want you to clarify this,” said a bench of Chief Justice Mohit Shah and Justice Roshan Dalvi. It took suo motu cognizance of a March 14 letter written by Jaya Sagade, director, Women Studies Centre, ILS Law College, Pune.
Sagade’s letter said the July 24, 2014 circular is” inconsistent with the letter and spirit” of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act which does not prevent parties from resolving their disputes before coming to court. It was also not the intention of the legislature, she added. According to the July 24, 2014 circular “counselling and mediation is restricted only to post-litigation and counselling provided towards domestic violence victim without the direction of the court will be a breach of the law.” It also provides that “no agency should do counselling and mediation without the direction of the court.” They can only “inform” a woman of her rights.
Sagade’s letter stated that many unregistered NGOs are doing counselling in DV matters and in many cases their intervention has resulted in an amicable settlement. She also that after a woman victim approaches the court, it refers the parties for counselling or mediation. “That does not mean that when case is not filed before a court counselling is prohibited. Therefore NGOs which are not registered as also entitled to do counselling,” her letter added.
Sagade’s letter said the “circular infringes on the rights of the woman who are victims of domestic violence and also NGOs working for promotion and protection of women’s rights.” “We are prima facie of the view that the letter is to be treated as a suo motu public interest litigation,” said the bench, directing notices to be to also be issued to NGOs Majlis and Lawyers Collective to intervene in the matter. It also asked that the officer who “dealt” with the circular to remain present.