Necessity for decriminalizing Sections 499 and 500 of IPC (defamation), discussed

Madras High Court: While discussing the need to decriminalize defamation in order to uphold the sacrosanct right of freedom of speech and expression, the Division Bench of V. Ramasubramanian and K. Ravichandrabaabu, JJ., observed that the question regarding the constitutionality of Sections 499 and 500 IPC is already before the Supreme Court, and with the Law Commission of India and Amnesty International chipping in the scenario vehemently advocating in favour of decriminalizing defamation in India, it is impossible for the Court to hold that the filing of a private complaint of defamation against a person for writing articles in a magazine, could make that individual a ‘person with criminal background’, so as to disentitle him to enroll as an advocate. The Court further observed that all over the world, the countries are steadily moving towards decriminalizing defamation.

The petitioner (appearing for himself), was denied enrollment as an advocate on the ground that a private complaint for defamation was filed against him by a non banking finance corporation, against whom the petitioner had written a severe critical piece in a  monthly magazine known as ‘Thuppariyum Visaranai’. The petitioner contended that a person facing a private complaint under Section 499 of IPC cannot be taken to be a person of criminal background, so as to make him ineligible for enrollment as an advocate. The respondent was represented by S.Y. Masood.

The Court firstly delved into the question of maintainability of the petition, as the petitioner had withdrawn his earlier writ petition. However the Court observed that the cause of action of the present writ petition is not similar to the earlier petition, whereby the petitioner’s eligibility under Schedule III, Rule 28 of Rules of Education, 2008 was in question. The Court however rendered its attention to the primary contention of the petitioner regarding defamation. The Court perused the major international conventions advocating freedom of speech and expression and major statutes enacted in USA and UK where defamation has been decriminalized. M.Nedunchezhian v. Bar Council of Tamil Nadu, 2015 SCC OnLine Mad 5573decided on 21.07.2015 


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