Case BriefsHigh Courts

Madras High Court: While answering important questions related to freedom of press; meaning of criminal defamation against the State and requisites of Section 199(2) of Criminal Procedure Code, the Single Judge Bench of Abdul Quddhose, J., observed that, application of mind by the State to the materials placed on record before granting sanction to the public prosecutor for launching prosecution under Section 199(4) CrPC is a necessary and that the State cannot act on an impulse or a whim. Moreover public prosecutor must independently assess the materials available on record and must independently take a view as to the availability of sufficient materials to launch prosecution on behalf of the State under Section 199 (2) CrPC.

As per the facts of the case, writ petitions were filed by several reputed editors challenging the Order launching the prosecution for criminal defamation against them by the State Government under Section 499 of Penal Code, 1860 and Section 199(2) of CrPC. The State Government of Tamil Nadu initiated the proceedings after the newspapers published articles against the then Chief Minister, J. Jayalalitha, which were considered defamatory in nature.

The counsel for the petitioners P.S. Raman and M.S. Murali, contended that freedom of press is considered a foundation for proper functioning of democracy and criticism should not be viewed as defamation, because in a free democratic society, those who are responsible for public administration should be open to criticism and citizens have a legitimate right to know the conduct of public officials as they have an influential role in society. It was further contended that the articles in question, did not pertain to the conduct of the public functionary in the discharge of his/her public functions; the sanction for prosecution was given in total disregard of Section 199(2); and the impugned sanction had been accorded by total non-application of mind. The State Government represented by S.R. Rajagopalan, A.A.G, denied the petitioner’s argument of non- application of mind while according the sanction to prosecute the editors and the newspapers.

Perusing the arguments, the Court at length discussed various aspects of criminal defamation enumerated under Chapter XXI, Sections 499-502 of IPC and various Supreme Court decisions on the point. The Court observed that as per IPC, “the person charged for defamation must have the intention to harm the reputation of the person against whom words have been spoken or any article has been published by him.” The Court further noted that criminal defamation is a non-cognizable offence under the Criminal Procedure Code; and the only non-cognizable offence in the Indian Penal Code having a large number of exceptions to any offence which indicates the legislative intent to restrict the usage of the criminal defamation law. The Court went on to say that “State should not be impulsive like an ordinary citizen in defamation matters and invoke Section 199(2) CrPC to throttle democracy”. However, the Court also pointed out that media houses too have a responsibility to remove the decay that is slowly creeping into the way news is being reported or published. The Court finally concluded the judgment by allowing the writ petitions as none of the prosecutions fell under the category of Section 199(2) CrPC. [.Thiru N. Ram v. Union of India, 2020 SCC OnLine Mad 1023 , decided on 21-05-2020]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: A Division Bench of Dr Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud and M.R. Shah, JJ., while rejecting the Editor-in-Chief of Republic TV Arnab Goswami’s  prayer to transfer the investigation into FIR lodged against him to CBI, issued a series of directions which may be summed up as follows:

  • Prayer to transfer the investigation to CBI is rejected.
  • Protection against coercive action granted to Arnab Goswami to continue for a period of 3 weeks to enable him to pursue remedies available in law.
  • FIR which has now been numbered as 164 of 2020 shall be investigated by the NM Joshi Marg Police Station in Mumbai.
  • Prayer for quashing FIR No. 164 of 2020 under Article 32 rejected.
  • The FIR does not cover the offence of defamation under Section 499 IPC, hence will not form subject matter of the investigation.
  • All FIRs except FIR No. 164 of 2020 at NM Joshi Police Station are quashed.
  • No other FIR or, as the case may be, complaint shall be initiated or pursued in any other forum in respect of the same cause of action emanating from the broadcast on 21 April 2020 by the petitioner on R Bharat.
  • Based on the threat perception, CP (Mumbai) may provide police protection to Arnab Goswami if it is considered appropriate and for the period during which the threat perception continues.
  • Nothing in the present judgment to be considered as an expression on merits of the allegations in the FIRs. 

Background

Following the broadcasts on Republic TV dated 16-4-2020 and on R Bharat dated 21-4-2020, multiple FIR’s and criminal complaints were lodged against the petitioner ? Arnab Goswami, Editor-in-Chief of Republic TV and the Managing Director of ARG Outlier Media Asianet News Private Limited which owns and operates R Bharat.

The broadcasts were in regard to an incident that occurred in Palghar District of Maharashtra wherein 3 persons including 2 sadhus were brutally killed by mob, allegedly in the presence of police and forest guard personnel. In the said broadcasts, petitioner had raised issues with regard to the tardy investigation of the incident.

Petitioner claimed that the Indian National Congress had after the said broadcast launched a “well coordinated, widespread, vindictive and malicious campaign” against him.

The said campaign by the INC was carried out through various news reports, tweets and multiple complaints against the petitioner seeking investigation into offences alleged to have been committed by him under Sections 153, 153-A, 153-B, 295-A, 500, 504, 506 and 120-B of the Penal Code, 1860. Campaign on social media using the hashtag ? #ArrestAntiIndiaArnab was also doing rounds.

To affirm his claim, the petitioner also stated that the FIRs and complaints were lodged in the State where the Governments were formed owing allegiance to the INC. 

Petitioner refused any propagation of communal views being broadcasted by him on the news channel that gave rise to the numerous complaints. Asserting his fundamental right to the Freedom of Speech and Expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India, the petitioner approached the Court seeking protection.

Another petition was filed which was occasioned by registration of an FIR against the petitioner on 2nd May 2020 wherein it was stated that the petitioner had on 29th April 2020 made certain statements on his broadcast on R Bharat that “people belonging to Muslim religion are responsible for COVID-19 spread.”

Challenging the said FIR, the petitioner sought to invoke the jurisdiction of Court for quashing the said FIR and directing that no cognizance should be taken on any complaint or FIR on the same cause of action.

Submissions

Senior Counsel Harish Salve, on behalf of the petitioner, submitted that the petition raises “wider issues” implicating the freedom of speech and expression of a journalist to air view which fall with the protective ambit of Article 19(1)(a). Further adding to his submission, Mr Salve also stated that this Court should necessarily lay down safeguards which protect the democratic interest in fearless and independent journalism.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta submitted that the investigation be handed over to CBI as the conduct of police in the present case has been disturbing.

Senior Counsel Dr Abhishek Manu Singhvi, on behalf of the investigating agency of the Maharashtra Police, submitted that: 

  • Facts of the present case clearly demonstrate that in the garb of an arc of protection, the accused is attempting to browbeat the police;
  • Interference in the course of an investigation is impermissible.
  • Though the petitioner is entitled to the fundamental rights under Article 19(1)(a), their exercise is subject to the limitations stipulated in Article 19(2).
  • Transfer of an ongoing investigation to the CBI has been held to be an extraordinary power which must be sparingly exercised in exceptional circumstances

Senior Counsel Kapil Sibal stated that in the exercise of the jurisdiction under Article 32, the Supreme Court may well quash all the other FIRs and allow the investigation into the FIR which has been transferred to the NM Joshi Marg Police Station in Mumbai to proceed in accordance with law.

Analysis

Multiplicity of FIRs

The Bench analysed that the law concerning multiple criminal proceedings on the same cause of action has been analysed in a Supreme Court decision in TT Anthony v. State of Kerala, (2001) 6 SCC 181, and held that there can be no second FIR where the information concerns the same cognisable offence alleged in the first FIR or the same occurrence or incident which gives rise to one or more cognisable offences.

Further analysing the present matter, the Court held that barring situations in which a counter-case is filed, a fresh investigation or a second FIR on the basis of same or connected cognizable offence would constitute an “abuse of the statutory power of investigation”.

The Court on perusal of the various complaints and FIRs observed that they were worded in identical terms and thus in no manner leave a doubt that an identity of cause of action underlies the allegations levelled against the petitioner. Moreover, the language, content and sequencing of paragraphs and their numbering was identical.

Further with regard to numerous proceedings Court went on to say that, subjecting an individual to numerous proceedings arising in different jurisdictions on the basis of the same cause of action cannot be accepted as the least restrictive and effective method of achieving the legitimate state aim in prosecuting crime.

Journalistic Freedom

India’s freedoms will rest safe as long as journalists can speak truth to power without being chilled by a threat of reprisal.

The Court stated that “the exercise of journalistic freedom lies at the core of speech and expression protected by Article 19(1)(a).” However, it was also stated that the right of journalists under Article 19(1)(a) is no higher than the right of the citizen to seek and express.

Free citizens cannot exist when the news media is chained to adhere to one position.

Considering all the aspects, in the present case, the Court thought necessary to intervene to protect the rights of the petitioner as a citizen and as a journalist to fair treatment and liberty to conduct an independent portrayal of views.

Transfer of investigation to CBI

It was noted that the precedents of the Supreme Court emphasise that transferring of investigation to CBI is an “extraordinary power” to be used “sparingly” and “in exceptional circumstances”.

Further the Bench opined that one factor that courts may consider is that such transfer is “imperative” to retain “public confidence in the impartial working of the State agencies”.

Reiterating the principle laid down in the decision of Romila Thapar v. Union of India, (2018) 10 SCC 753, the Court opined that accused does not have a say in the matter of appointment of investigating agency. Reliance was placed on a number of Supreme Court’s earlier decisions.

The Court held that so long as the investigation does not violate any provision of law, the investigation agency is vested with the discretion in directing the course of investigation, which includes determining the nature of the questions and the manner of interrogation.

Having analysed all the aspects, the Court issued the directions as mentioned above.[Arnab Ranjan Goswami v. Union of India,  2020 SCC OnLine SC 462 , decided 19-05-2020]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The bench Dr DY Chandrachud and MR Shah, JJ has refused to transfer to CBI the criminal cases lodged against Republic TV Editor in-Chief Arnab Goswami for alleged defamatory news show telecast on April 21 in connection with the Palghar mob-lynching case. It also quashed all FIRs against Arnab Goswami except one which was filed in Nagpur and which has been transferred to Mumbai via order dated 24.04.2020. The Court, however, held,

“The petitioner would be at liberty to pursue such remedies as are available in law under the CrPC before the competent forum. Any such application shall be considered on its own merits by the competent court”

The Court further directed that the protection granted to the Goswami on 24 April 2020 against coercive steps be extended for a period of three weeks to enable him to pursue the remedies available in law. It also asked the CP, Mumbai to consider the request of Goswami for the provision of security at his residence and business establishment in Mumbai, in accordance with law.

“Based on the threat perception, police protection may be provided if it is considered appropriate and for the period during which the threat perception continues.”

Factual Background

Goswami had attacked Sonia Gandhi in one of his shows on Republic TV and had claimed that she had orchestrated the Palghar lynching in Maharashtra, where 3 Hindu religious leaders, who were on their way to Silvassa on April 16, were lynched by local residents on the suspicion that they were thieves. He questioned Sonia Gandhi’s silence over the incident and asked if she would have been quiet if Muslim or Christian religious leaders would have been lynched instead of Hindu leaders.

After the incident was given a communal angle, Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh shared the list of 101 people taken into custody in connection with the lynching, and said none of those arrested were Muslim.Goswami later attacked Congress for orchestrating an attack on him and his wife in Mumbai after they were returning from work.

On refusing to transfer the matter to CBI

On the scope of power to transfer the case to CBI, the  no inflexible guidelines are laid down, the notion that such a transfer is an “extraordinary power” to be used “sparingly” and “in exceptional circumstances” comports with the idea that routine transfers would belie not just public confidence in the normal course of law but also render meaningless the extraordinary situations that warrant the exercise of the power to transfer the investigation.

“An accused person does not have a choice in regard to the mode or manner in which the investigation should be carried out or in regard to the investigating agency.”

The Court considered the fact that Goswami had requested for and consented to the transfer of the investigation of the FIR from the Police Station Sadar, District Nagpur City to the NM Joshi Marg Police Station in Mumbai. He did so because an earlier FIR lodged by him at that police station was under investigation. The Court was irked by the fact that Goswami now sought to preempt an investigation by the Mumbai police on untenable grounds.

Grounds on which transfer was sought

    1. The length of the interrogation which took place on 27 April 2020;
    2. The nature of the inquiries which were addressed to the Petitioner and the CFO and the questions addressed during interrogation;
    3. The allegations leveled by the petitioner against the failure of the State government to adequately probe the incident at Palghar involving an alleged lynching of two persons in the presence of police and forest department personnel;
    4. Allegations which have been made by the petitioner on 28 April 2020 in regard to CP, Mumbai; and
    5. Tweets on the social media by activists of the INC and the interview by the complainant to a representative of R Bharat.

Noticing that as long as the investigation does not violate any provision of law, the investigation agency is vested with the discretion in directing the course of investigation, which includes determining the nature of the questions and the manner of interrogation, the Court said,

“The line of interrogation either of the petitioner or of the CFO cannot be controlled or dictated by the persons under investigation/interrogation”

It was noticed that though an individual under investigation has a legitimate expectation of a fair process which accords with law,

“The displeasure of an accused person about the manner in which the investigation proceeds or an unsubstantiated allegation (as in the present case) of a conflict of interest against the police conducting the investigation must not derail the legitimate course of law and warrant the invocation of the extraordinary power of this Court to transfer an investigation to the CBI.”

On quashment of all but one FIR

The Court stated that the filing of multiple FIRs arising out of the same telecast of the show hosted by the petitioner is an abuse of the process and impermissible. Hence, stating that it has not gone into the merits of any of the FIRs, the Court directed,

“No other FIR or, as the case may be, complaint shall be initiated or pursued in any other forum in respect of the same cause of action emanating from the broadcast on 21 April 2020 by the petitioner on R Bharat.”

It, further, clarified that any other FIRs or complaints in respect of the same cause of action emanating from the broadcast on 21 April 2020, other than the FIRs or complaints quashed by the Court, are also not maintainable.

On non-quashment of FIR transferred to Mumbai from Nagpur

The Court noticed that the FIR which is now under investigation at the NM Joshi Marg Police Station in Mumbai does not and cannot cover any alleged act of criminal defamation.

It, hence, said that it would be inappropriate for the court to exercise its jurisdiction under Article 32 of the Constitution for the purpose of quashing FIR under investigation at the NM Joshi Marg Police Station in Mumbai considering that the checks and balances to ensure the protection of the Goswami’s liberty are governed by the CrPC.

It further took note of the fact that despite the liberty being granted to Goswami on 24 April 2020, he did not pursue available remedies in the law, but sought instead to invoke the jurisdiction of this Court. Whether the allegations contained in the FIR do or do not make out any offence as alleged will not be decided in pursuance of the jurisdiction of this Court under Article 32, to quash the FIR. Stating that Goswami has an equally efficacious remedy available before the High Court, the Court said that he must be relegated to the pursuit of the remedies available under the CrPC.

It, however, clarified,

“We should not be construed as holding that a petition under Article 32 is not maintainable. But when the High Court has the power under Section 482, there is no reason to by-pass the procedure under the CrPC, we see no exceptional grounds or reasons to entertain this petition under Article 32. There is a clear distinction between the maintainability of a petition and whether it should be entertained. In a situation like this, and for the reasons stated hereinabove, this Court would not like to entertain the petition under Article 32 for the relief of quashing the FIR being investigated at the NM Joshi Police Station in Mumbai which can be considered by the High Court.”

[Arnab Ranjan Goswami v. Union of India, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 462 , decided on 19.05.2020]


Also read: 

SC grants 3 weeks protection from arrest to Arnab Goswami; stays all but one FIR

Verdict reserved; Goswami’s interim protection extended till the delivery of judgment

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The bench of Dr. DY Chandrachud and MR Shah, JJ has reserved it’s judgment in the petition filed by Republic TV editor Arnab Goswami, challenging the FIRs registered against him in various parts of the country for alleged defamation of Congress President Sonia Gandhi. While doing so, it directed,

“Until the judgment is pronounced by this Court, the protection which was granted to the petitioner in paragraph 13(iv) of the order dated 24 April 2020 shall continue to remain in operation.”

On April 24, 2020, the Court had granted 3 weeks of interim protection and no coercive action against the petitioner, Arnab Goswami and had further directed,

“For a period of three weeks, the petitioner shall be protected against any coercive steps arising out of and in relation to the above FIR arising out of the telecast which took place on 21 April 2020.”

Resultantly, the Court had stayed all FIRs against Arnab Goswami except one which was filed in Nagpur and which has now been transferred to Mumbai

Factual background

Goswami had attacked Sonia Gandhi in one of his shows on Republic TV and had claimed that she had orchestrated the Palghar lynching in Maharashtra, where 3 Hindu religious leaders, who were on their way to Silvassa on April 16, were lynched by local residents on the suspicion that they were thieves. He questioned Sonia Gandhi’s silence over the incident and asked if she would have been quite if Muslim or Christian religious leaders would have been lynched instead of Hindu leaders.

After the incident was given a communal angle, Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh shared the list of 101 people taken into custody in connection with the lynching, and said none of those arrested were Muslim. Goswami later attacked Congress for orchestrating an attack on him and his wife in Mumbai after they were returning from work.

[Arnab Ranjan Goswami v. Union of India, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 450 , order dated 11.05.2020]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In the petition filed by Republic TV editor Arnab Goswami, challenging the FIRs registered against him in various parts of the country for alleged defamation of Congress President Sonia Gandhi, the bench of Dr. DY Chandrachud and MR Shah, JJ has granted 3 weeks of interim protection and no coercive action against the petitioner, Arnab Goswami. He can move an anticipatory bail application in three weeks

“For a period of three weeks, the petitioner shall be protected against any coercive steps arising out of and in relation to the above FIR arising out of the telecast which took place on 21 April 2020.”

Resultantly, the Court stayed all FIRs against Arnab Goswami except one which was filed in Nagpur and which has now been transferred to Mumbai.

“further proceedings shall remain stayed, pending further orders of this Court, in respect of any other FIR or, as the case may be, criminal complaint which has been filed or which may be filed hereafter, with respect to the same incident”

Directing Mumbai Police Commissioner to provide security to Arnab Goswami and Republic TV, the Court said,

“In addition to the personal security provided to the petitioner, if a request is made by the petitioner to the Commissioner of Police, Mumbai for providing adequate security at the residence of the petitioner or at the studio of Republic TV in Mumbai, such a request shall be expeditiously considered and, based on the threat perception, police protection shall be provided, if considered appropriate and for the period during which the threat perception continues.”

The Court kept the following considerations kept in mind while granting the abovementioned relief to Arnab Goswami:

  • The need to ensure that the criminal process does not assume the character of a vexatious exercise by the institution of multifarious complaints founded on the same cause in multiple States;
  • The need for the law to protect journalistic freedom within the ambit of Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution;
  • The requirement that recourse be taken to the remedies available to every citizen in accordance with the Code of Criminal Procedure 1973;
  • Ensuring that in order to enable the citizen to pursue legal remedies, a protection of personal liberty against coercive steps be granted for a limited duration in the meantime;
  • The investigation of an FIR should be allowed to take place in accordance with law without this Court deploying its jurisdiction under Article 32 to obstruct the due process of law; and
  • Assuaging the apprehension of the petitioner of 7 a threat to his safety and the safety of his business establishment.

During the hearing, Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Maharashtra, told the Court

“You are creating communal violence by citing such statements, if FIRs have been registered, how can you quash it at this stage? Let the people be investigated, what is wrong in it?”

Advocate Vivek Tankha, appearing for Chhattisgarh Government, sought for a restraint order on Arnab Goswami from making such statements.

Justice Chandrachud said,

“Speaking for myself I believe there should be no restraint on the media. I am averse to imposing any restrictions on media”.

Goswami had attacked Sonia Gandhi in one of his shows on Republic TV and had claimed that she had orchestrated the Palghar lynching in Maharashtra, where 3 Hindu religious leaders, who were on their way to Silvassa on April 16, were lynched by local residents on the suspicion that they were thieves. He questioned Sonia Gandhi’s silence over the incident and asked if she would have been quite if Muslim or Christian religious leaders would have been lynched instead of Hindu leaders.

After the incident was given a communal angle, Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh shared the list of 101 people taken into custody in connection with the lynching, and said none of those arrested were MuslimGoswami later attacked Congress for orchestrating an attack on him and his wife in Mumbai after they were returning from work.

[Arnab Ranjan Goswami v. Union of India, WRIT PETITION(CRIMINAL) Diary No(s).11006/2020, order dated 24.04.2020]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: A Division Bench comprising of T.V. Nalawade and S.M. Gavhane, JJ., partly allowed the present petition while explaining the significance of few provisions of the Criminal Code of Procedure, 1973.

In the present case, the act of respondents, police officers, of taking search of the house of the petitioner was illegal and that was interference in the privacy of the petitioner and his family. Relief is claimed of compensation of Rs 10 lakhs for infringement of a fundamental right, “Right of Privacy”.

Petitioner contends that during the said search, one Constable had tried to plant a pistol in his house but due to alertness of the petitioner he could not plant such arm. He further adds that while leaving the house threats were given by the police that they would implicate the petitioner in a false crime. Further, he states that, act of the police was infringement into his privacy, violation of his fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.

In the earlier order of this Court, Sub-Divisional Police Officer was appointed to make inquiry. Petitioner contends that, Sub-Divisional Officer noticed illegality but did not propose action against the police officers involved in the illegal search. Adding to his contentions, petitioner states that the respondents have nothing to show that they had any information against the petitioner on that night or the prior one.

Counsel for the petitioner mainly submitted that police ought to have obtained search warrant first for taking search of the house of the petitioner and as such warrant was not obtained, the house search was illegal.

In the present matter respondent’s case is that on the basis of some secret information, petitioner was in possession of a firearm illegally and thus the search was taken.

Court’s Analysis and Conclusion [Explained: Provisions of Sections 165 and 166 CrPC]

Court holds that provisions of Sections 165 and 166 CrPC are applicable in a case like the present one.

In Supreme Court’s decision in State v. Rehman, AIR 1960 SC 210, Apex Court laid down that,

“as search is a process exceedingly arbitrary in character, stringent statutory conditions are imposed on the exercise of the power”

 Provision of Section 165 CrPC is enacted to enable police to take search when there is urgency and when it is not permissible to follow lengthy process, securing search warrant from Magistrate.

 The provision is not restricted to search of what is stolen or believed to be stolen and it permits the police officer to make search for anything necessary for the purposes of investigation into any offence.

It is further noted that, on one hand the provision enables police to take search of the house for investigation of any crime, on the other, it becomes mandatory for police to record reasons as the first step before entering the house.

In respect to the Arms Act, Court stated that it has gone through the provisions of the Arms Act, 1959 as the respondents had submitted that there was specific information that the petitioner was in possession of firearm illegally, for which the Court further stated that nothing in the Arms Act and Rules framed under the Act enable police to take such search by ignoring the provision of Section 165 CrPC.

 Court, adding to its analysis, stated that, while going through the provisions of Maharashtra Police Act also in order to ascertain the powers of police officer nowhere the Act shows that police can bypass the provision of Section 165 CrPC.

Intrusion of Privacy

Court held that as the police officers had entered the house that too in the night time when his family was sleeping which included two ladies and the issues, it would amount to the intrusion into their privacy.

Further, in the present case, respondents were given an opportunity by the Court to show that there was secret information received by police on that night.

“When police officers leave for action, they need to make an entry about their movements in the station diary.”

 Court on noting the circumstances in the present case stated that, record by the petitioner shows that most of the respondents were assigned different duties at different places on that night. All of them came together on that night for this action but no writing is there in respect of secret information and also about the compliance of provision of Section 165 CrPC. Thus Court held that action of the police officers was illegal.

State is liable to pay compensation for the above-stated illegal action. Action of police was not only the infringement into privacy but defamed the entire family.

High Court further came down the relief in respect to the prosecution of police officers which is not possible in the present matter for the following reasons:

Court referred to the provisions of Sections 165 and 166 CrPC. In view of the CrPC provisions, it can be said that search of the house premises was a part of official duty.

Placing reliance on the Supreme Court decision in Anjani Kumar v. State of Bihar, (2008) 5 SCC 248, wherein it was held that, if there is reasonable connection between the act and the discharge of duty by public servant, the act would be ‘official’ to which section 197 of the Cr.P.C. would be applicable.

For prosecution, there is a necessity of sanction under Section 197 CrPC and in view of the facts of the present matter, no further action like direction for the prosecution of the police officers is warranted.

Thus, in view of the above observations of the Court, appeal was partly allowed declaring the search to be illegal. [Dnyaneshwar v. State of Maharashtra, 2019 SCC OnLine Bom 4949, decided on 29-11-2019]

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]