Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: Mangesh S. Patil, J., addressed the matter with respect to a complaint filed regarding defaming the respondent in the name of human sacrifice.

Applicants invoked the powers of the Court under Section 482 CrPC and under Article 226 and 227 of the Constitution of India for quashing the proceeding lodged by Respondent 2 for the offence punishable under Section 500 of the Penal Code, 1860 in respect of the news item published in their newspaper ‘Lokmat’.

It has been noted that Respondent 2 filed a complaint in the Chief Judicial Magistrate’s Court, wherein he alleged that in ‘Lokmat’ a news item was published under the caption ‘Narbali cha pryatna’ (Attempt at Human Sacrifice) with a sub-heading ‘Jalu Ghramsthanrnche Madtine Vachale Balkache Pran’ (A Child survives death scare because of alertness of Jalu Villagers). Further, Respondent 2 along with 10 members of his organisation were taken to the police station and despite keeping them in the police station, police failed to find any evidence against them.

The above stated was done with a view to harming the respondent’s organisations reputation and respondent’s reputation as well. The result of this was that the respondent was defamed and his reputation was put a stake. Thereafter, he sent a notice to the applicants demanding particulars on the basis of which news item was published. However, applicants did not respond to the same and therefore were liable to be punished.

Contentions

Satyajit S. Bora, Advocate representing the applicant’s submitted that what was published in the newspaper was merely a report about the incident and no opinion was expressed. Thus it was truthful reporting of an incident.  Respondent 2 along with his associates were found moving in the village as a group with a boy named in the news item and villagers suspected that the child was being carried for sacrifice and one human skull was found.

For the above-stated, villagers assaulted them and took them to the police station. The matter was inquired by  Sub-Inspector and on verification, it was transpired that it was a matter of misunderstanding.  They were all proceeding for a party but since it was being held in a field the villagers perceived that it was some attempt at a human sacrifice. It is thus quite clear that it was a sheer misunderstanding and the news item was in infact a truthful disclosure of the happenings.

“Complaint is devoid of any allegations that the applicants were harbouring some grudge against respondent 2 and his associates and had published the news item to settle some score much less intending to harm his reputation.”

It was further submitted that, since it turned out to be a factually correct reporting, no further inquiry was required and it would fall under First Exception to Section 499 which saves such true publication of a news item made in public good and was done in good faith and would also fall under Ninth Exception, since the news was published in good faith for the protection of public at large and since it was seriously thought to be a case of human sacrifice.

Learned Advocate for Respondent 2 submitted that, applicants could have merely reported the matter instead of mentioning the names of the persons, even if it was a fact that they were accosted by the villagers and were taken to the police station. If really the applicants were having some bona fides they should have waited for things to be clarified by the police. The fact that the news was published without any verification is demonstrative of the fact that they had not acted in good faith.  The facts prima facie make out a case of defamation and cannot be said to be an abuse of process of law so as to quash and set aside the complaint itself.

Conclusion of the Court

One can easily attribute knowledge of the consequences of publication of such news item containing grave imputations.

The High Court while noting the above stated facts and submissions of the parties, stated that one need not delve much in this aspect and the contents of the news item indeed can easily be said to have lower the reputation of the Respondent 1 in the esteems of others and the knowledge of such consequence can easily be imputable to the persons who have published the news.

Further, relying on the case of Sewakram Sobhani v. R.K. Karanjia, (1981) 3 SCC 208, wherein it was held that,

“Journalist do not enjoy some kind of special privilege or have greater freedom than others to make imputation or allegations, sufficient to ruin the reputation of a citizen.”

Further, it was stated that, the truth of an allegation does not permit a justification under the First exception unless it is proved to be in public good.

“..without intending to traverse the jurisdiction of the Magistrate to inquire into and decide the issue, publishing names of the respondent no.2 and his associates in a news item which could have been published by deleting the names is indeed a material circumstance which will have to be borne in mind by the Magistrate during the trial.”

In High Court’s opinion, the publication of the item which has the potential of putting Respondent 2  to disrepute and to lower him in the esteems of the others is prima facie sufficient to constitute defamation as defined under Section 499 of Penal Code, 1860 and the doors cannot be shut at threshold.

The bench also opined that the Court has demonstrated above as to how prima facie there is material to show the offence of defamation having been committed. Chairman and Chief Editor do not have any direct role and responsibility in publishing the news item.

Thus the criminal Application was partly allowed. [Vijay Jawaharlalji Darda v. State of Maharashtra, 2019 SCC OnLine Bom 2634, decided on 04-10-2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: A Division Bench of Ranjit More and Bharati H. Dangre, JJ. quashed the order passed by the Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate whereby he had issued process against the petitioners including veteran industrials Ratan Tata and Ajay Piramal. The process was issued in the case instituted against them by the billionaire businessman Nusli Wadia for the offence of defamation.

Backdrop

At the relevant time, Ratan Tata was the Interim Chairman of Tata Sons Ltd. and the other petitioners were its Directors. Notably, Tata Sons is a promoter of the three operating companies relevant herein — Tata Chemicals, Tata Motors and Tata Steels — of which Nusli Wadia was an Independent Director. On 24-10-2016, the erstwhile Chairman of Tata Sons, Cyrus Mistry, was removed by the Board of Directors of Tata Sons. Pursuant thereto, the IndependentnDirectors of Tata Chemicals met at the Bombay House whereafter they issued statements affirming their confidence in the erstwhile Chairman, Cyrus Mistry, and his Board. According to Tata Sons, it was Nusli Wadia’s attempt to galvanize the Independent Directors and that he did not conduct himself independently and acted as an interested party. Thereafter, Tata Sons decided to convene Extraordinary General Meeting of the shareholders of Tata Chemicals seeking, inter alia, removal of Nusli Wadia as its Independent Director. A Special Notice was also issued under Section 169(2) read with Section 115 of the Companies Act, 2013 which became the bone of contention between the parties. At the conclusion of the Extraordinary General Meeting, Nusli Wadia was removed from the office of Independent Director.

The Special Notice, the complaint, and the impugned order

According to the petitioners, the narration contained in the Special Notice issued under Section 169(2) read with Section 115, was a statutory requirement before taking action of removal of a Director. The said Notice contained averments that Nusli Wadia was acting in concert with Cyrus Mistry against the interests of Tata Chemicals. Whereas, according to Nusli Wadia, the said Special Notice containing the allegations was per se defamatory and no due diligence was shown by the petitioners by ascertaining whether the allegations were true or false before issuance of the said Notice containing the imputation. Consequent thereto, Nusli Wadia filed a complaint complaining that the petitioners individually and collectively committed an offence of defamation and were responsible for committing the offence under Section 500 (punishment for defamation) read with Section 109 (punishment for abetment) of the Penal Code. On this complaint, the Magistrate passed the impugned order recording a finding that the complainant made out a case against the accused persons and hence, he issued process against the petitioners.

Discussion

After perusing relevant statutory provisions, the High court was of the view that the impugned statement was to be referred to in the background in which it was made, namely, an act or conduct of the Independent Director who is sought to be removed by the Company who is empowered to remove its Director after following the procedure prescribed under Section 169 of the Companies Act, 2013. The Court was of the opinion that it was not necessary to assess or judge the truthfulness of the allegations. It was stated: “The imputation contained in the Special Notice cannot be viewed independent of the purpose for which it is included in the Special Notice and if the petitioners have adopted a legal course permissible to be adopted under the framework of the statute governing it, we do not think the allegations can be termed as per se defamatory.” It was noted that the statutory scheme itself contemplates that the notice should be accompanied by a brief statement of information and facts that would enable the members to understand the meaning, scope and implication of the items and business to be transacted in the meeting and to take decision thereof. Further, removal of Nusli Wadia was on of the agenda of the notice and it was accompanied by a brief statement why such removal was required — the statement which was impugned as defamatory. The court was of the view that imputations being part of the Special Notice which was statutory in nature, the same could not be termed defamatory.

Held

In view of the discussion mentioned above, it was held that the impugned order passed by the Magistrate was without application of mind and could not be sustained. Resultantly, the impugned order was quashed and the petition was allowed. [Ratan N. Tata v. State of Maharashtra, 2019 SCC OnLine Bom 1324, decided on 22-07-2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Chhattisgarh High Court: Sanjay K. Agrawal, J. held that the continuation of criminal proceedings for the offence of defamation against an advocate who acted professionally as per the instructions of his client was nothing but abuse of process of Court.

The petitioner was an Advocate having standing of more than 45 years at the Bar in District Court, Jagdalpur (Bastar). He drafted a plaint on behalf of one Madhuri Pandey, daughter of late Ghanshyam Pandey, for declaration of title, confirmation of possession and permanent injunction against one Pratibha Pandey (hereinafter, the complainant). In the plaint, she was referred to as “concubine” of Ghanshyam Pandey. She filed a complaint against the petitioner and other alleging that she was the widow of Ghanshyam Pandey and not her concubine. She prayed for appropriate action or damage to her reputation.

The precise question for consideration of the Court was: Whether an Advocate, while acting under the instructions of his client and proceeding professionally, can be prosecuted/punished for the offence of defamation punishable under Section 500 IPC?

Rahul Tamaskar, Advocate for the petitioner contended that the petitioner was acting strictly in performance of his professional duty and he enjoyed privilege while acting as such. Chandresh Shrivastav, Deputy Advocate General, submitted that the present petition deserved to be dismissed. Punit Ruparel, Advocate submitted that the petitioner ignored the Duty to Opponent prescribed under Bar Council of India Rules.

The High Court was of the view that the petitioner was liable to be given the benefit of the ninth exception (imputation made in good faith by person for protection of his or others interests) to Section 499 (defamation) IPC. It was noted that the petitioner drafted the plaint on the basis of instructions provided by his client, the plaintiff. Referring to a plethora of Judicial Precedents, the High Court held: “an advocate, who acted professionally as per instructions of his/her client, cannot be made criminally liable for the offence of defamation under Section 500 IPC unless the contrary is alleged and established.” Finding the petitioner’s act to be bona fide, it was said: “As such, imputation was made in good faith and on the basis of instructions of his client in order to protect her right to property which she is claiming, as right to property is a constitutional right under Article 300A of the Constitution of India and therefore does not constitute the offence of defamation under Section 499 punishable under Section 500 and falls within the Ninth Exception to Section 499.”

In such view of the matter, the criminal proceedings pending against the petitioner before the Court of Chief Judicial Magistrate, Jabalpur was quashed.[Arun Thakur v. State of Chhattisgarh, 2019 SCC OnLine Chh 51, decided on 10-05-2019]

Case BriefsForeign Courts

Supreme Court of the United Kingdom: “He tried to strangle me.” What would those words convey to an ordinary reasonable reader of a Facebook post? A bench of Lord Reed, Deputy President and Lord Kerr, Lady Black, Lord Briggs and Lord Kitchin considered the above-framed question while deciding an appeal in a case of defamation filed respondent-husband against the appellant, her former wife.

Ronald Stocker was the former husband of the appellant, Nicola Stocker. Their marriage ended in acrimony in 2012. Mr Stocker subsequently formed a relationship with Ms Deborah Bligh. On 23 December 2012, an exchange took place between Mrs Stocker and Ms Bligh on Facebook where Mrs Stocker informed Ms Bligh that Ronald had tried to strangle her. She also said that Ronald had been removed from the house following a number of threats that he had made; that there were some “gun issues”; and that the police felt that he had broken the terms of a non-molestation order. These statements and the allegation that Ronald had tried to strangle her were the basis on which Ronald took proceedings against her for defamation.  

Ronald claimed that the meaning to be given to the words “tried to strangle me” was that he had tried to kill her. Mrs Stocker denied that the words bore that meaning. The High Court, however, ruled in favour of Ronald. Thus, Mrs Stocker filed the present appeal. 

The Supreme Court did not agree with the approach of the trial Judge. The Supreme Court was of the view that his approach produced an obviously anomalous result. The phrase “he strangled me”, on his analysis entails a less serious accusation than the phrase “he tried to strangle me”. This was the consequence of confining the meaning of the words exclusively to dictionary definitions. According to the Supreme Court: “Where a statement has more than one plausible meaning, the question of whether defamation has occurred can only be answered by deciding which single meaning should be given to the statement”.

It was observed: “The primary role of the court is to focus on how the ordinary reasonable reader would construe the words. To fulfil this obligation, the court should be particularly conscious of the context in which a statement is made. The hypothetical reader should be considered to be a person who would read the publication”.

It was opined that the fact that this was a Facebook post is critical and it was necessary for the judge to keep in mind the way in which such postings are made and read. The Court said: “It is unwise to search a Facebook post for its theoretical or logically deducible meaning. The search for meaning should reflect that this is a casual medium in the nature of a conversation rather than a carefully chosen expression. People scroll through Facebook quickly and their reaction to posts is impressionistic and fleeting”.

It was held that through relying on the dictionary definitions, the trial Judge fell into legal error. As a consequence of this, he failed to conduct a realistic exploration of how an ordinary reader of the Facebook post would have understood it. As a result of this error of law, the decision on meaning could not stand and it was felt appropriate by the Supreme Court to determine the meaning of the post itself. In Court’s opinion, an ordinary reader of the post would have interpreted it as meaning that Mr Stocker had grasped Mrs Stocker by the throat and applied force to her neck. 

In light of this, it was held that the defence of justification should succeed. Even if Mrs Stocker’s allegations were considered not to have been established to the letter, there was more than enough to demonstrate that that defence should not fail by reason only that the truth of every charge was not proved. [Stocker v. Stocker, [2019] 2 WLR 1033, dated 03-04-2019] 

Hot Off The PressNews

MJ Akbar had filed a case against Priya Ramani alleging her of defaming him by leveling the charges of sexual misconduct during the MeToo campaign.

Ramani, who appeared before Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Samar Vishal, however, pleaded not guilty and claimed trial.

MJ Akbar had filed a defamation case against her, stating the cause that the article published by Ramani in which she had stated she was sexually harassed by MJ Akbar in the past. Several women had raised their voices in support of Ramani along with the ones who had been the victim of the same.

Patiala House Court will hear the case next on 04-05-2019 and granted permanent exemption to Ms Ramani from personal appearance. She was granted bail on 25-02-2019.

MJ Akbar’s legal team had told the court that Priya Ramani damaged his reputation by levelling “false, wild and baseless allegations”.

[Source: NDTV]


#MeToo | Bail granted to Journalist Priya Ramani in the defamation case filed by MJ Akbar

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: In an interesting case, M.G. Giratkar, J., maintained conviction of a journalist for the offence of extorting money from the complainant — an old man, around 72 years of age.

Sonba Bhaisare (complainant) sold certain land after getting it converted from agricultural to non-agricultural. It was alleged that the accused, a journalist by profession, met Sonba Bhaisare time and again and threatened him to publish reports against as the subject land was a bhoodan land and therefore the conversion was illegal. He also threatened to file a PIL and further threatened to make complaint to the Collector and get the houses built on the subject land demolished it. It was further alleged that the accused demanded Rs 50,000 to refrain from his activities which was agreed to by Sonba after initial reluctance. However, Sonba made a complaint to the Police who laid a trap and caught the accused taking an installment of Rs 10,000 from Sonba in a temple as agreed between them. Consequently, the accused was convicted under Sections 384 and 385 IPC by the trial court which was upheld by the first appellate court. Aggrieved thereby, the accused filed the present revision petition.

Noting all the facts of the case, the High Court was of the view that the trial court’s judgment needs to be upheld. Reflecting on the conduct of the accused, the Court stated, “intention of the accused is very clear to extract the money from the complainant and others. He was threatening them. Not only threatening but also filed PIL. Therefore, activities of the accused clearly show that he is a person who might have earned money by such tactics from various persons.” Observing that “all the illustrations to Section 384 show that even a threatening by journalists who are reporters to publish news in a newspaper to defame a person amounts to extortion”, the Court went to hold that the prosecution was able to prove the case against the accused beyond reasonable doubt and hence his conviction was maintained.

Lastly, regarding leniency in sentencing, the Court observed, “This type of crimes are increasing day by day, by threatening the officers or innocent persons. They are extracting money in the name of journalists. The accused has misused his position and threatened the complainant and purchasers, therefore, he is not entitled to any kind of leniency”. [Sharad Balkrushna Deotale v. State of Maharashtra, 2019 SCC OnLine Bom 305, dated 21-02-2019]

Hot Off The PressNews

As reported by media, Journalist Priya Ramani appeared in the Patiala House District Court for the defamation case filed by MJ Akbar (Former Union Minister).

Priya Ramani was the first woman to accuse MJ Akbar of sexual allegations during the “#me too” campaign.

MJ Akbar had filed a defamation case against her, stating the cause that the article published by Ramani in which she had stated she was sexually harassed by MJ Akbar in the past. Several women had raised their voices in support of Ramani along with the ones who had been the victim of the same.

Therefore, today on appearance at the Patiala House District Court, Ramani was granted bail with a bond of Rs 10,000 by Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, Samar Vishal.
Ramani after the court proceedings gave a statement that “truth is her defence” and after the next date it will be her turn to tell the story.

The next date of hearing is fixed to be 10-04-2019.

[Source: ANI]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

“In this case, though in the sanction order it has been recorded ‘by order’ but from that word it cannot be inferred by whose order.”

Tripura High Court: The Bench of S. Talapatra, J. set aside the conviction of the appellant (who was a Member of Tripura legislative Assembly at the relevant time) for an offence under Section 500 IPC (punishment for defamation) for want of necessary sanction.

The appellant had made scathing and unfounded allegations of corruption against the de facto complainant– Manik Sarkar (who was the Chief Minister of Tripura at the relevant time) at a public meeting which were published in a daily newspaper–Tripura Darpan. He alleged the CM of secretly purchasing a luxurious flat at Salt Lake and keeping the toiling masses hungry. In a letter to the appellant, the CM challenged him to prove the allegations within 48 hours. However, the appellant neither replied to the letter nor proved any allegations. Subsequently, the Public Prosecutor, West Tripura filed a complaint against the appellant under Section 199(2) CrPC for taking cognizance, enquiry and trial for committing the offence under Section 500 IPC. Ultimately, the matter went to trial and the appellant was convicted and awarded a sentence of 2 day’s simple imprisonment by the Sessions Judge. Aggrieved thereby, the present appeal was filed.

Senior Advocate P.K. Biswas, representing the appellant, contended that the conviction was not proper as there was no legal sanction order to file a complaint against the appellant who was a sitting MLA at the relevant time. Advocate General A.K. Bhowmi made submissions in favour of the impugned judgment.

The High Court found that the charge against the appellant was established and proved to the hilt. However, thereafter it referred to a plethora of precedents on law relating to Article 166 which has been engrafted for conduct of the business of State Governments. The article mandates that all executive actions of the government have to be taken in name of the Governor and authenticated in a manner specified by rules in that behalf. In the present case, the order of sanction was not issued in name of the Governor nor was it shown to have been issued by his order. Even after perusing Rules of Executive Business of the Government of the State of Tripura, 1972, the Court found the absence of authorisation for granting sanction as required under Section 199(4) CrPC. In such case, it was held that the cognizance or framing of charge on the absence of valid sanction was grossly erroneous and illegal. As a corollary, the appeal was allowed and the appellant was discharged. [Bilal Miah v. State, 2019 SCC OnLine Tri 4, dated 03-01-2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Chhattisgarh High Court: The Bench comprising of Goutam Bhaduri, J. allowed an appeal concerning the defamatory publication made against two doctors in a newspaper.

In the present case, it has been stated that the appeal was filed against the judgment and decree passed by Additional District Judge, Manendragarh, wherein suit for damages of Rs 1,00,000 was dismissed for alleging defamatory publication in newspaper on the ground that justification of truth exists on the published news item and after dismissal, this appeal value was reduced to Rs 50,000 for damages.

Facts of the case are that, the two doctors namely Dr PP.K. Niyogi and Dr C.P. Karan have acquired reputation and name by their work of extending different medical help to people. Defendant Praveen Nishi, was a Publisher, Printer & Chief Editor of newspaper namely Ghoomta Darpan, who had published a piece of news that the doctors are committing dacoity with the poor in a piece of news. Further, it was published that the plaintiffs without any reason used to give the injection to the patients and recover Rs 40-50/- fees along with tests, sonography etc. Therefore, plaintiffs stated because of the said publication, plaintiff’s image was tarnished.

Defendant had averred that the publication of news was made in the public interest and in all bonafide without any intention of damaging the reputation of plaintiffs. Court framed three issues and dismissed the suit.

As stated by Mr Nishikant Sinha & Mr Shakti Raj Sinha, Advocates for the appellant, the plaintiffs refused to give an advertisement to the newspaper of the defendant, as revenge, false publication of the news was made without any proof thereof. Further stated that, the evidence categorically shows that the damage was done to the reputation to which truth was absent.

“Mere levelling the allegation against the doctor without any substance or proof, the presumption cannot be drawn that it was in the discharge of a public duty.”

Reliance was placed on the decision of the Supreme Court in Sewakram Sobhani v. R.K. Karanjia, Chief Editor, Weekly Blitz; (1981) 3 SCC 208, in which it was held that:

“The truth of an allegation does not permit a justification under the first exception unless it is proved to be in the public good. Question whether or not it was for public good is a question of fact like any other relevant fact in issue.”

Thus, the High Court stated that the aforesaid principle would go to show that the said privilege which has been claimed by the defendant as the editor cannot be accepted consequently it can be completely insulated by presumption or justification or truth. The defence which has been raised by the respondent that it was in public interest in a defamatory damages suit may not be squarely applicable and accepted. Besides that, there was no evidence on record that such public interest exists. The evidence is an opinion.

“Justification or truth never existed for which the suit was dismissed by the Court below.”

The appeal was allowed and suit decreed for Rs 50,000 as against damages. [P.K. Niyogi v. Praveen Nishi, 2018 SCC OnLine Chh 680, decided on 03-12-2018]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

“Democracy presupposes robustness in debates, which often turns the spotlight on public figures and public institutions-like media houses, journals and editors.”

Delhi High Court: The Division Bench comprising of S. Ravindra Bhat and A.K. Chawla, JJ. addressed the blazing issue of  “Cobrapost” sting operation all over the electronic and print media by addressing two appeals in a suit for permanent injunction.

Introduction:

The matrix of facts which follows in this popularly talked about case is that ‘Dainik Bhaskar Group’, i.e. the plaintiffs had complained of attempt at defamation for which they sought a permanent injunction against the defendants in the form of publishing subject content in any manner. For the scene of circumstances, impugned order had already been granted in the form of ex parte injunction.

Further, the points to be noted are that, the defendants in the present case are, first defendant a registered society which owns and operates a website in the name and style  of ‘Cobrapost.com’, the second defendant founder and editor-in-chief of the Forum of the above stated first defendant and third defendant claims to be a senior journalist associated with the Forum.

Allegations:

Plaintiff had received an email from ‘Cobrapost’ stating that the third defendant had some recorded conversation with the persons associated with plaintiffs revealing partisan ideologies, covert threat in the email of publicizing the conversation through the defendant’s program with clear suggestion that the said ideologies are endorsed by the plaintiff. Forum had also published an invitation on its website for the exclusive screening of its documentary that would allegedly expose biggest names in the Indian media. Plaintiff had denied all the stated allegations and said that it all amounts to media trial and gravely contravenes the principles of free speech and expression and in case any such conversation has been recorded then those views would be of the individuals and the plaintiffs. The counsel for the plaintiff also placed reliance on a PIL order Court on its own motion v. State, ILR (2008) II Del 44, to say that “sting” operations are suspect at the least and illegal; they cannot be used by the media to vilify anyone.

Appellant’s who are also the defendants stated that the impugned order made ex-parte was faulted. Further, it was submitted that without a discussion on the merits or the facts, an injunction order, as wide as the impugned order, amounts to a blanket censorship, which cannot be countenanced in a free country which cherishes its liberties and free speech. Reliance was placed on A. Venkatasubbiah Naidu v. S. Chellappan, 2000 (7) SCC 695, for the proposition that an appeal against a blanket injunction order is maintainable.

Hence, the High Court on consideration of each and every point submitted by the parties, concluded its decision by stating that an unreasoned order granting ex-parte injunction for the entire duration of the suit, is impermissible, for the stated statement it relied upon the case of Morgan Stanley Mutual Fund v. Kartick Das, 1994 (4) SCC 225, therefore, on this point the Court was of the opinion that ex parte injunction, which the impugned order gave, to subsist during the entirety of the pendency of suit, was unjustified. Further, mere frame of the relief of permanent injunction does not alter the principle.

For the above-stated reasons, the impugned order is set aside and matter remitted to learned Single Judge. [Pushp Sharma v. D.B. Corpn. Ltd.,2018 SCC OnLine Del 11537, decided on 28-09-2018]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Patna High Court: The Bench comprising of Ashwani Kumar Singh, J, in an order stayed the proceedings against Juggernaut Books (P) Ltd. in regard to the defamation complaint by a complainant on behalf of Swami Ramdev.

The petitioner’s counsel in his submissions placed that Section 199 (1) CrPC makes it mandatory that a complaint about defamation requires the person who is aggrieved to file the complaint on his own, i.e. person against whom imputation has been made. In the present matter, it has been observed that the complainant who has filed the complaint is not aggrieved in this case.

Another contention that has been stated by the petitioner by placing reliance on G. Narasimhan, G. Kasturi v. T.V. Chokkappa, 1972 (2) SCC 680 submitted was that the Court below took cognizance of the offences under Section 500, 501 and 502 IPC which was not acceptable.  The crux of this particular contention of the petitioner was that the cognizance taken by Magistrate under Section 295 A IPC was in the absence of previous sanction by the Central and or State Government which indeed is a necessity.

Therefore, the High Court concluded by staying the proceedings and issuing a notice to Opposite Party 1. [Juggernaut Books (P) Ltd. v. State of Bihar, Criminal Miscellaneous No. 10548 of 2018, Order dated 18-08-2018]

Case Briefs

Madhya Pradesh High Court: A Single Judge Bench comprising of S.K. Awasthi, J., held that a piece of newspaper reporting one-sided ongoing court proceedings without mentioning the defence of the other side may amount to defamation and was sufficient to issue process under Section 200 CrPC.

The contents of piece of newspaper in question consist of the information regarding the trial proceedings going on against the applicant. The said piece also reported a series of orders passed against the applicant along with his photograph. Aggrieved by the same, the applicant filed a case under Section 499 IPC against the respondent newspaper. However the trial court refused to issue process holding that the said piece was a reporting of court proceedings and was covered by Exception 4 to Section 499. The applicant challenged the said order in the High Court.

The Court considered the record as well as law on the subject and observed that the contents of the news piece in question contain imputations against the applicant which were scathing in nature and impeached upon his social image. The Court further observed that under Section 499, as while reporting a court proceeding which is yet to be taken to its logical end, no offender can be permitted to publish a report which only refers to the version of one side and completely omits the defence put up from the other side. From the manner in which the reporting of the court proceeding was done in this case, it was clear that the purpose was to report the version of one party which would tarnish the reputation of the other side; and if such type of selective reporting is permitted then the Courts will be undermining the rights of the other party which is to lead life with dignity. It may be borne in mind that a ‘fair reporting’ of a court proceeding is protected by virtue of Exception 4 to Section 499. A report, which substantially deal with contentions of both the parties even though the author and newspaper records its own opinion about the entire controversy can, in no manner, be held to be punishable under Section 499, but the Court cannot turn its blind eye towards inaccurate and selective reporting of court proceedings.

The Court held that the present was a case of selective and one-sided reporting of ongoing court proceedings and hence were not protected by Exception 4 to Section 499. Consequently, the order of trial court refusing to issue process against the respondents was set aside and the matter was remitted back with a direction to consider the complaint filed by the applicant in light of the discussion hereinabove. [M.P. Mansinghka v. Dainik Pratah Kaal, M. CR. C. No. 7890 of 2013, order dated 15-2-2018]

Case BriefsForeign Courts

Federal Court of Justice: As reported by Reuters, the Germanys’ highest court while addressing an appeal upheld a lower court ruling which stipulates that Google is not required to pre-screen websites for defamation before displaying them in search results.

The verdict came after a German couple brought a case against Google, seeking the “Right to be Forgotten” [in 2014, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that individuals can request search engines to remove inadequate/irrelevant information from web results appearing under searches for their names] arguing that the US-based internet giant should be responsible for blocking links to websites to prevent its search engine from displaying such sites on which they were defamed, and that it should set up search filters to keep those websites from appearing in future search results.

The German Federal Court of Justice observed that Google doesn’t have to ensure that you only see kind words, and while general filters for clearly illegal content can be set up, the sheer volume of content added to the internet every day would make it utterly impractical to guarantee that every search result honors the law, and further observed that without the help of such search engines it would be impossible for individuals to get meaningful use out of the internet due to the unmanageable flood of data it contains, and that instituting a general duty to inspect the content would seriously call into question the business model of search engines, which is approved by lawmakers and wanted by society.

The Presiding Judge Gregor Galke, ruled on that “a general responsibility to regulate is incompatible with the function of search engines,” adding that forcing Google and others to check every link would practically paralyze the service.

The Court, further held that Google was supposed to act on links where users have reported “concrete evidence” of violations of law, such as child pornography or acts of violence. Though under the German law, social media websites are obliged to remove offensive content within 24 hours of notification, this ruling makes it clear that this right doesn’t extend to people hurling verbal abuse, and certainly doesn’t cover preemptive screening.

The German court, however, recognized the practical impossibility of a ruling in favour of the aggrieved couple and thus held that Google can’t be responsible for trawling through contents, before it appeared on the search engine and hence a duty to take action is triggered only on being notified of a ‘clearly recognizable violation’ of individual rights.

According to Googles’ transparency report, it has received requests for the removal of more than 2.4 million links and complied with about 43 percent of them.

[Source: Reuters]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: While deciding the plaint filed for claiming permanent injunction and damages against the aggrieved party, the Bench of  Rajiv Shai Endlaw, J. ordered to dismiss the plea against the defendant because of the absence of substantive subject-matter and cause of action.

In the present case, the Court observed that in a suit of defamation, the defamatory words uttered or written are required to be pleaded and if the plaintiff has not pleaded the same, the plaintiff cannot rely on the documents. The document which was produced by the petitioner did not qualify to be defamatory rather than it was found to be complimentary statement which does not amount to defamation. Hence the Court relied upon the facts and evidence produced by the party and found nothing derogatory and defamatory against the defendant and ordered that the plaint does not disclose any cause of action against the defendants and therefore rejected the plea by the petitioner. [Ashish Bhalla v. Suresh Chawdhary, 2016 SCC OnLine Del 6329, decided on 29.11.2016]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In the matter where apart from the constitutional validity of the law on criminal defamation under Section 500 IPC and Section 199 CrPC, but also the concept of fair criticism, discernment and dissection of activities of the State Government and disapproval of views taken in the matters of administration and policy decisions, it was vehemently argued by the petitioner that the office of the Public Prosecutor has its own independence; and the Public Prosecutor has been conferred an independent role under the provisions of the CrPC and he cannot become a post office in the hands of the authorities to file prosecutions for criminal defamation without scrutinizing whether a case is made out or not.

Mr. G.S. Mani, appearing for the petitioner, argued that the citizenry right to criticize cannot be atrophied by constant launching of criminal prosecution for defamation on each and every issue to silence the critics because when criticism in a vibrant democracy in this manner is crippled, the democracy which is best defined as the “Government of the People, by the People, for the People” would lose its cherished values.

Mr. Ranjit Kumar, Solicitor General submitted that apart from the Public Prosecutor who has a definitive role under Section 199(2) of the CrPC, the sanctioning authority also has a significant and sacred role under sub-section (4) of the said provision and, therefore, a complaint cannot be filed in a routine manner to harass a citizen.

The bench of Dipak Misra and C.Nagappan, JJ, after hearing the arguments from both sides,  issued notice to the respondents i.e. the Public prosecutor and Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu among others and listed the matter on 24.08.2016. [A. VIJAYAKANTH v. PUBLIC PROSECUTOR, DHARMAPURI DISTRICT, 2016 SCC OnLine SC 708, Order Dt. 15.07.2016]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: Writing down the 268 pages long judgment where the constitutional validity of Sections 499 and 500 IPC and Sections 199(1) to 199(4) CrPC was upheld, the bench of Dipak Misra and P.C. Pant, JJ stated that it is difficult to come to a conclusion that the existence of criminal defamation is absolutely obnoxious to freedom of speech and expression.

The Court, after making an in depth analysis of Section 499 IPC, held that the provision along with Explanations and Exceptions cannot be called unreasonable, for they are neither vague nor excessive nor arbitrary. The Court further said that criminal defamation which is in existence in the form of Sections 499 and 500 IPC, is not a restriction on right to freedom of speech and expression that can be characterized as disproportionate. Right to free speech cannot mean that a citizen can defame the other as protection of reputation is a fundamental right as well as a human right.

Regarding the Section 199 CrPC it was contended by the petitioner that except the President of India, the Vice-President of India, the Governor of a State, the Administrator of a Union territory, mention of the other public servants in the provision puts them in a different class to enable them to file a case through the public prosecutor in the Court of Session which makes the provision discriminatory. The Court rejected the said contention and held the public servants constitute a different class as public function stands on a different footing than the private activities of a public servant. The provision gives them protection for their official acts and there cannot be defamatory attacks on them because of discharge of their due functions.  However, the Court clarified that criticism is different than defamation. [Subramanian Swamy v. Union of India, 2016 SCC OnLine SC 550, decided on 13.05.2016]

Supreme Court

Supreme Court: Considering the instant writ petition praying for the declaration of Sections 499 and 500 of IPC and Section 199(2) of CrPC as unconstitutional, the Division Bench of Dipak Misra and U.U. Lalit, JJ. issued a Stay Order on five defamation proceedings initiated against the petitioner in the Principle District and Sessions Court, Chennai. 

The instant writ petition arose in response to five defamation suits filed against the petitioner who is also a political bigwig after he allegedly posted some defamatory statements on a social networking site against the former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Ms. Jayalalitha.

In the present case, the petitioner appearing in person, raised before the Court several issues pertaining to the impugned Sections for violating the Fundamental Right of Freedom of Speech and Expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) and the reasonable restriction enshrined under Article 19(2) of the Constitution. The petitioner seeking to examine the impugned sections contended that the Sections 499, 500 and 199(2) restrict the freedom of speech and expression beyond the reasonable limit prescribed under Article 19(2). The petitioner also put forth that in a democracy public opinion, public perception and public criticism form the basic pillars to keep a check on executive actions and collective interest is the dominant principle in a democratic polity. The petitioner also argued that the sanction provided under Section 199(2) CrPC confers unregulated power to curb the right of the citizens to criticize the executive actions. Subramanian Swamy v. Union of India 2014 SCC OnLine SC 867