calcutta high court

Calcutta High Court: In a case pertaining to a defamation claim and the issuance of a permanent injunction, a Division bench comprising of Harish Tandon and Prasenjit Biswas, JJ., held that it has the power to grant an injunction in a defamation case, even when monetary relief is sought, as reputation is a crucial factor in society. The Court opined that the right to freedom of speech and expression is not absolute and must be balanced with the protection of an individual’s reputation.

Factual Matrix

The instant matter arose from an order dated 07-01-2023, and 16-01-2023, passed by the Civil Judge, Alipore concerning a defamation claim and the issuance of a permanent injunction. The plaintiff/appellant filed this case seeking compensation/damages for defamatory statements made against him by the defendant/respondent, along with a permanent injunction restraining the respondent from publishing or approaching individuals in society with false claims regarding the appellant’s involvement in the affairs of a company where he served as a Director.

The appellant claimed defamation was based on a purported letter dated 01-12-2022, allegedly issued by the respondent. In this letter, the respondent accused the appellant and others of filing false criminal cases against them with ill motives. The appellant argued that these false allegations harmed his reputation both in his professional career and personal life. The appellant had previously been acquitted of the charges mentioned in the letter, which were filed by the respondent’s organization.

Moot Point

  1. Whether the respondent’s statements in the letter constituted defamation?

  2. Whether the Court should grant an injunction in a defamation case, even when monetary compensation is claimed?

Court’s Assessment

The Court held that the statements made by the respondent in the letter were prima facie defamatory, and the respondent’s actions had the potential to harm the appellant’s reputation. While the appellant sought monetary compensation, the Court emphasized that defamation cases were not limited to compensation alone.

The Court referenced several legal precedents, including Subramanian Swamy v. Union of India, (2016) 7 SCC 221, and opined that the right to freedom of speech and expression, although fundamental, is not absolute and should be balanced with the right to protect one’s reputation. The Court noted that criminal defamation is not inconceivable, as reputation is an inherent component of Article 21 of the Constitution of India.

“The right to freedom of speech and expression though fundamental right is not an inviolable right but circumscribed by a reasonable restriction having a fundamental right of right to freedom of speech and expression into an individual does not confer such right in absolute form if it tarnishes the image and reputation of a person which he owes the society and therefore, a balancing is required in this regard.”

The Court noted that the reputation of an individual is crucial in society and can be severely tarnished by unsubstantiated and false allegations. Therefore, the Court has the authority to grant an injunction to prevent further harm to one’s reputation, even when monetary relief is sought.

“The reputation of a person is one of the primary factor which weighs in the society and any attempt either by a spoken word or publication or letters circulated through internet portal on the basis of an unsubstantiated and false allegation can be restrained.”

The Court further observed that in John Thomas v. K. Jagadeesan, (2001) 6 SCC 30, the Supreme Court emphasized that even if imputations are not per se defamatory, the complaining person can establish through evidence that the publication amounted to defamation. The Court also cited Vinai Kumar Saxena v. Aam Aadmi Party, 2022 SCC OnLine Del 3093, where the Delhi High Court granted an injunction in a defamation suit when statements were prima facie defamatory.

Court’s Decision

Based on these considerations, the Court granted an ad interim order of injunction restraining the respondent from posting the defamatory letter, whether in physical or electronic form, for a period of 10 weeks or until further order. The Trial Court was directed to expeditiously dispose of the application for a temporary injunction, allowing the respondent to contest it by filing affidavits. The Trial Court could extend, vary, or refuse to extend the ad interim order, as circumstances warranted, without further reference to the higher court.

The appeal and applications were disposed of accordingly.

[Soumendra Kumar Biswas v. Sheshadri Goswami, FM AT 72 of 2023, order dated 18-10-2023]

*Judgment by Justice Harish Tandon

Advocates who appeared in this case :

Mr. Jishnu Chowdhury, Mr. Souradeep Banerjee, Mr. S. K. Banerjee, Ms. S. Sinha, Counsel for the Appellant

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