Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: Yogesh Khanna, J., reiterated that there is no provision in the Criminal Procedure Code to amend a criminal complaint, but amendment can be allowed if the amendment is sought before taking of cognizance.

Petitioner (Aroon Purie, Editor-in-Chief, India Today) filed an application for amendment challenging the order dated 26-02-2020 whereby the trial court directed to issue notice against the petitioner for offences under Sections 500/501/502 read with Section 120-B IPC.

Factual matrix

India Today Magazine in its edition dated 30-04-2007 had published a news item under the title “Mission Misconduct”. The said item asserted allegations, against the complainant, of soliciting sexual favour leading to a probe that revealed financial irregularities and fudging of bills. It was also reported that consequently, the official (complainant) is back in India is facing disciplinary action.

Petitioner’s arguments

(a)       As per Section 7 of the Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867, normally an editor, printer can only be prosecuted. The petitioner is the editor-in-chief and therefore could never be prosecuted. The news item itself shows the petitioner is editor-in-chief and not an editor.

(b)       The news item merely reported the facts and hence it cannot be said to be defamatory. Facts were accurate and reflected the public record and hence no defamation case could be made out.

(c)        Violation of Section 196(2) CrPC: It was argued that it prohibited any Court from taking cognizance of an offence of conspiracy, other than criminal conspiracy to commit an offence punishable with death or imprisonment for life or rigorous imprisonment for two years or above. Such cognizance can be taken only in a case where the State Government or the District Magistrate has consented in writing and since there is no consent of the State Government or by the District Magistrate, the cognizance in the present case is barred under Section 196(2) CrPC.

(d) Challanege was also based on the grounds of violation of Section 197 CrPC. It was contended that necessary sanction for prosecution was not obtained.

(e) Lastly, it was asserted that the instant petition under Section 482 CrPC was maintainable despite availability of the remedy under Section 397 CrPC.

Complainant’s story

As per the complainant, information about allegation of “sexual harassment at work place” was conveyed to him only in the form of a show cause notice. On the basis of his reply, the Ministry of External Affairs conveyed to the complainant that they would not pursue the matter further at that stage. Thus, without any basis, India Today went ahead with the publication of an unsubstantiated and unverified defamatory story and splashed it all over the world through the medium of the internet.

Act of Defamation was done on 30-04-2007 on which date there were no charges of any financial irregularities or of fudging of bills, etc, against the complainant. Such charges were created and disciplinary action initiated and pursued by the Department under the shadow of a democles sword in the form of the publication of the defamatory news story which ignited the flame and the resultant fire engulfed the whole unblemished service career, jeopardized his chances of promotion and, above all, assassinated his precious reputation.

As per the complainant, the so-called complaint dated 10.07.2005 (2006) never existed and was subsequently planted. Further, it was alleged that on the date of publication of story in India Today dated 30-04-2007, no show cause notice much less the memorandum of charges were issued to him.

Whatever information with regard to any allegations was available to the accused/officers of the MEA, who were privy to such classified/confidential information; they rather provided such classified information to India Today in an unauthorized manner and in violation of the GOI Conduct Rules applicable to them, which specifically prohibits sharing any information about service matters of its officer with the media. Thus the assertion the news story on 30-04-2007 was only reporting of a fact which was in public record, was completely misleading.

Analysis, Law and Decision

(a) The High Court was of the opinion that the argument that as per Section 7 of the Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867, normally an editor can only be prosecuted cannot be adhered to. It was reiterated that it is matter of evidence in each case and if the complaint is allowed to proceed only against the editor whose name is printed in the newspaper against whom there is a statutory presumption under Section 7 and in case such editor succeeds in proving that he was not the editor having control over the selection of alleged libelous matter published in the newspaper, the complainant would be left without any remedy left to redress the arguments against the real culprits.

(b) On the second issue, the Court said that the assertions that the news item merely reported facts which were accurate and reflected public records and cannot be held to be defamatory, cannot be accepted. Rather such assertion and who was responsible for its publication and has it came to the fore of editors require critical examination and hence evidence of these issues is required.

The ingredients of Section 499 IPC clearly point out towards the imputation published in any form which also include newspaper. In case the petitioner seeks the protection of an exception under Section 499, that stage is yet to come, meaning thereby the submissions made by the petitioners are not applicable at this stage.

It was noted that as per record available before the Court, the story by the petitioner against the complainant, was allegedly published much prior to the issue of show cause notice. Subsequent to this, the complainant was exonerated from all the allegations vide an order dated 04-04-2008, but as per the complainant, with the publication of the article in question, the complainant was allegedly defamed in the eyes of his wife, his family, his friends and colleagues and society, in India and all over the world. Till date the defamatory article allegedly haunts him and that is the reason the complainant has been vigorously pursuing litigation.

(c) Further, the Court doubted whether Section 196(2) CrPC will be applicable in the present case. Anyhow, in this case, the Magistrate after due process of law and after applying her mind to the facts and circumstances of the complaint, has taken cognizance and thus has consented in writing to the initiation of the proceedings against the petitioner vide a summoning order dated 20.04.2013, hence this objection was not relevant at this stage.

(d) With respect to the objection qua violation of Section 197 CrPC, the High Court expressed that in the present matter, petitioner was neither a judge nor a public servant, therefore no sanction was required to initiate criminal action by the Magistrate against the petitioner.

Relying on the Supreme Court decision in State v. Battenapatla Venata Ratnam, (2015) 13 SCC 87, the Court opined that as the allegations against the government official are of leaking of the confidential information of complainant to block his career, and allegedly for their own pleasure, hence, prima facie, at this stage, per allegations, sanction was not required.

(e) On the question of maintainability of the instant petition, the Court was of the view that allegations and counter allegations in the present matter raised disputed questions of facts and cannot be dwelled into by the High Court under Section 482 CrPC.

All the defenses raised in the instant petition, can very well be taken up by the petitioner during the course of trial, said the High Court.

Whether amendment can be allowed at the instant stage

In the present case, the trial court had already taken cognizance of the complaint and proceeded with the trial. As per the High Court, the amendment which was now sought is illegal and against the provisions of law.

In the present matter, the amendment were sought when the Magistrate had already taken cognizance of the complaint and had proceeded with trial. The High Court relied on the Supreme Court decision in S.R. Sukumar v. S. Sunaad Raghuram, (2015) 9 SCC 609, wherein it was held that, there is no provision in CrPC to amend criminal complaint, but amendment can be allowed if the amendment is sought before taking cognizance.

Therefore, the present petition was dismissed as no ground to interfere under Section 482 CrPC was found. [Aroon Purie v. State, Crl. MC No. 3492 of 2013, decided on 07-04-2021]


Advocates before the Court:

[CRL.M.C. 3492/2013 CRL.M.As. 12820/2013 & 18912/2014]

For the Petitioner: Mr. Siddharth Luthra, Senior Advocate with Mr.Hrishikesh Baruah, Mr. Pranav Jain.

For the Respondents: Mr. Amit Ahlawat, APP for State. Mr.SS.Ahluwalia, Advocate for R2/ Amicus Curie.

[CRL.M.C. 4636/2013, CRL.M.A.Nos.16659/2013, 17386/2020]

For the Petitioner: Mr. Ajay Digpaul, CGSC with Mr. Kamal R.Digpaul, Advocate

For the Respondents: Mr. S.S. Ahluwalia, Advocate/ amicus curie and Mr. Mohit Bansal, Advocate.

[CRL.M.C. 1762/2014, CRL.M.A.Nos.5882/2014, 17297/2020, 17299/2020]

For the Petitioner: Mr. Hrishikesh Baruah, Mr. Ajay P.Tushir, Mr. Shailendra Singh, Mr. Pranav Jain, Mr. Shahrukh, Advocates.

For the Respondents: Mr. Amit Ahlawat, APP for State. Mr.S.S.Ahluwalia, Advocate/ amicus curie and Mr. Mohit Bansal, Advocate for Mr. O.P.Bhola

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Madras High Court: N. Sathish Kumar, J., expressed that:

“…to constitute an offence under Section 500 of IPC, against the constitutional functionaries or the Minister of State, it has to be established by the prosecution that the alleged imputation made in respect of the conduct of a public servant/public functionary in discharge of his/her public functions and the public function stands on a different footing than the private activities of a public servant.

If the statement is made on mere criticism then it is a right guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.”

The present criminal original petition was filed to quash the proceedings pending with regard to criminal cases related to elected Members of Parliament and Members of Legislative Assembly of Tamil Nadu, Chennai.

Prosecution submitted that in an interview, the petitioner gave a defamatory statement against the Chief Minister and Ministers of Government of Tamil Nadu which was telecasted in leading Television Channels and the same came in the leading dailies on a subsequent day.

In view of the above-stated complainant gave a complaint under Section 199(2) of CrPC of the alleged offence under Section 499 of IPC punishable under Section 500 IPC.

Analysis, Law and Decision

In the instant matter, the imputation alleged to have made by the petitioner was only an allegation made against the ministers in general and in no way connected with the discharge of their official functions.

“…power of quashing of a criminal proceedings should be exercised sparingly, with circumspection and in rarest of rare cases. The court, is not justified in embarking upon an enquiry as to the reliability or genuineness of the allegations made in the FIR or the complaint on the basis of the evidence collected during investigation.”

 Supreme Court decision in State of Haryana v. Bhajan Lal, 1992 Supp (1) SCC 335, was cited.

Bench stated that the allegations in the FIR and the materials collected by the prosecution did not disclose the commission of any offence and made out a case against the accused and prosecution itself is instituted with an ulterior motive for wreaking vengeance, Court can exercise power under Section 482 CrPC.

Supreme Court in a catena of decisions such as Rajdeep Sardesai v. State of A.P., (2015) 8 SCC 239 held that judicial process should not be an instrument of oppression or needless harassment.

Mere allegation made against the Ministers in general without any intent on the part of the petitioner and/or without any nexus with discharge of public duties will not come under the purview of offence punishable under Section 500 of IPC.

 While taking cognizance of a complaint under Section 199(2) CrPC, defamation should be directly attributed to a person in discharge of his/her public functions and only in such circumstances the said provision would stand attracted.

Hence, in view of the above discussion, the pending complaint related to Members of Parliament and Members of Legislative Assembly of Tamil Nadu was liable to be quashed.

Before parting with the decision, High Court recorded that persons in public life and the leaders of various political parties should restrain themselves from making serious allegations or criticism against constitutional functionaries since leaders of political parties have huge followers and the same will have a serious impact on the followers and the followers also blindly follow the path of their leaders.

“…irrespective of the political affiliation, when a person raised to the level of leader of a political party should show atmost respect to the others in public life. Of course, every citizen of a democratic country have a freedom of speech, but at the same time such criticism should not exceed affecting the sentiments of others also.”

[T.T.V. Dhinakaran v. City Public Prosecutor, 2021 SCC OnLine Mad 1370, decided on 08-03-2021]


Advocates before the Court:

For Petitioner: Mr.P.S. Raman Senior Counsel for Mr N.Raja Senthoor Pandian

For Respondent: Mr.A.Natarajan, State Public Prosecutor

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: Suresh Kumar Kait, J., quashed a complaint about defamation filed by a lawyer against Business Standard. It was held that the complainant had no locus to file the complainant.

What do the petitioners want?

Petitioner sought the quashing of Order as well as Complaint Case titled: Lohitaksha Shukla v. Business Standard (P) Ltd. pending before the Metropolitan Magistrate.

What was the basis of complaint?

Complaint was based on an article titled: “The Long and Short of it” which was published in the petitioner’s newspaper – Business Standard under the authorship of Mitali Saran.

Averments of the Complainant

Lohitaksha Shukla, Complainant who was an advocate by profession averred that he was informed about the factum of publication of the article by his friends. In the complaint he alleged that the article was not based on facts and contained some defamatory insinuations against RSS and it’s members, as it accused members of RSS being oppressive to Indians, mentally disturbed and disrespectful to Indian National Symbols ridden with psycho sexual complexes, practitioners of discrimination based on caste and physically unfit.

Further, he added that being a member of RSS, his reputation had been adversely affected.

Metropolitan Magistrate found that there was sufficient material for summoning the accused 1, 2 and 3 under Section 500 IPC.

Petitioner’s Stand

Petitioners submitted that if a Magistrate were to take cognizance of the offence of defamation on a complaint filed by one who was not an “aggrieved person”, the trial and conviction of an accused in such a case by Magistrate would be void and illegal.

Petitioner 2 has averred that the allegation of complainant that he was ‘Editor in Chief’ of petitioner 1 at the time of publication of the article was baseless, as he had never been ‘Editor in Chief’ of petitioner 1.

Adding to the above, it was submitted that the complainant was not “person aggrieved” within the meaning of Section 199(1) CrPC and hence, was not competent to institute a private complaint and even if the complaint was taken on the face value, the same did not disclose any offence whatsoever which falls within the ambit of Sections 499 and 500 IPC.

Complainant could not establish how his reputation was harmed or his moral or intellectual character was lowered as a result of the said article. Though he claimed that he had been asked by his friends to leave RSS as a result of that article, but he could not bring anyone to the witness box in support of the said assertion, hence failed to prove that article brought any kind of defamation to him.

Bench noted that Section 199(1) CrPC mandated that the magistrate could take cognizance of the offence only upon receiving a complaint by a person who was aggrieved.

Purpose and intent of this provision is to limit the power of Magistrate to take cognizance of offences pertaining to defamation in order to prevent and discourage the filing of frivolous complaints. 

Court observed that, in the present case, the complainant had not been able to show as to how he was the “person aggrieved” within the definition of Section 199(1) CrPC and thus, the contents of complaint suffered from vices of illegality or infirmity. Even complainant was not a part of “identifiable class” or definite “association or collection of persons” as enumerated in Explanation (2) to Section 499 of IPC.

Trial Court did not take into consideration the above-stated provision.

High Court referred to the Supreme Court decision in Mehmood Ul Rehman v. Khazir Mohammad Tunda, (2015) 12 SCC 420 with regard to the scope of “opinion of Magistrate”.

Hence, in view of the above discussions, Court held that the complaint in question was not maintainable and was liable to be dismissed.  [Business Standard (P) Ltd. v. Lohitaksha Shukla,  2021 SCC OnLine Del 988, decided on 01-03-2021]

Case BriefsDistrict Court

Rouse Avenue Court, New Delhi: Ravindra Kumar Pandey, ACMM, in an essentially significant decision revolving around the  #MeToo movement, acquitted Priya Ramani (accused) and held that no case under Section 500 of the Penal Code, 1860 was found against her.

“Most of the women who suffer abuse do not speak up about it or against it for simple reason “The Shame” or the social stigma attached.”

 “The woman has a right to put her grievance at any platform of her choice and even after decades.”

What led to the filing of the present complaint under Section 500 IPC?

Complainant MJ Akbar, who was a politician moved the present complaint alleging accused Priya Ramani, a Journalist for defaming and damaging the complainant’s reputation by way of tweets, articles, etc. While presenting the set of allegations, complainant stated that the accused had made false, derogatory and malicious imputations against him such as:

I began this piece with my MJ Akbar story. Never named him because he didn’t ‘do’ anything. Lots of women have worse stories about this predator­ maybe they’ll share’, ‘ the media’s biggest sexual predator’. ‘ How many more stories do you need to hear?’, ‘Am glad # MJ Akbar won’t be in the workplace any more but Akbar represent countless men who believe they can say and do whatever they want to women without any consequences’. ‘You’re an expert on obscene phone calls, texts, inappropriate compliments and not taking no for an answer’.

Another allegation that the complainant puts forward is the accused herself, while putting forward the above mentioned quoted defamatory statements, relating to an incident occurred 20 years ago, admits that the complainant did not do anything to her.

Allegations of the Accused as: Figment of her imagination

Complainant goes on to submit that accused’s conduct on taking any action before any authority, with respect to the alleged incident clearly belies the sanctity of the articles and allegation made against the complainant with the intention to malign his reputation.

It was further alleged by the complainant that accused Priya Ramani had resorted to a series of maliciously fabricated allegations, which was diabolically and viciously spread by her by using media.

All of the above caused great humiliation and damaged the complainant’s goodwill and reputation in his social circles and on the political stage.

On the basis of pre-summoning evidence led by the complainant, accused Priya Ramani was summoned by this Court for commission of offence punishable under Section 500 IPC.

Priya Ramani’s Defence

Accused took the defence that she made the publication of the articles and tweets in good faith for protection for other women’s interest in general regarding sexual harassment at the workplace. Accused contended that her publication covered under the exception 1,3 and 9 of Section 499 IPC.

Further, it was added that the complainant was not a man of stellar and impeccable reputation and the accused did not defame him by publishing the tweets and article.

Analysis and Decision

It cannot be ignored that most of the time, the offence of sexual ­harassment and sexual abuse is committed in the close doors or privately. Sometimes the victims herself does not understand what is happening to them or what is happening to them is wrong. Despite how well respected some persons are in society, they in their personal lives, could show extreme cruelty to the females.

While analysing the facts and circumstances of the case, Bench considered the systematic abuse at the workplace due to the lack of mechanism to redress the grievance of sexual harassment at the time of the incident of sexual harassment against the accused Priya Ramani and witness Ghazala Wahab prior to the enactment of The Sexual­ Harassment of women at workplace ( Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, or their option to not lodge the complaint of sexual ­harassment due to the social stigma attached with the sexual ­harassment of women.

Unaware of what is happening

Bench while addressing the issue of sexual abuse expressed that victims of sexual abuse not even speak a word about abuse for many years because sometimes she herself has no idea that she is a victim of abuse.

“…victim may keep believing that she is at fault and victim may live with that shame for years or for decades.”

Defamation complaint against sexual abuse victims

Court stated that woman cannot be punished for raising voice against the sexual­ abuse on the pretext of criminal complaint of defamation as the right of reputation cannot be protected at the cost of the right of life and dignity of woman as guaranteed in Constitution of India under Article 21 and right of equality before the law and equal protection of the law as guaranteed under Article 14 of the Constitution.

While concluding with its decision, Bench asserted that the ‘glass ceiling’ will not prevent the Indian Women as a road lock for their advancement in society, if equal opportunity and social protection be given to them.

Therefore, while acquitting Priya Ramani of the offence under Section 500 IPC, Court directed her to furnish bail bonds and surety bonds in terms of Section 437-A CrPC. [Mobashar Jawed Akbar v. Priya Ramani, Complaint Case no. 05 of 2019, decided on 17-02-2021]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Jharkhand High Court: Ananda Sen, J., while addressing the instant matter with regard to the application of Section 228A of Penal Code, 1860 and subsequently the provision of defamation expressed that:

“…publishing of newspaper report of facts of lodging of an FIR cannot be said to be defamatory, especially when the FIR has been lodged by the victim herself.”

Through this interlocutory application it was submitted that during the pendency of the case, lower court cancelled the bail bonds of the petitioners, which necessitated the filing of the instant interlocutory application.

The criminal miscellaneous petition under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure was filed by the petitioners to quash the order taking cognizance by which cognizance of offence under Sections 228 (A)/500/501/34 of the Penal Code, 1860 was been taken by the Judicial Magistrate.

OP 2 had filed a complaint against the petitioners who happen to be the Publisher, Chief Editor, Senior Editor and Resident Editor of a local newspaper and also against the newspaper itself and its publisher alleging therein that a newspaper report was published in the said newspaper with the following heading:

The said report contained that the victim was married and there was some dispute in relation to their residential house. She was subjected to sexual assault.

Complainant lodged a criminal complaint against the petitioners who happen to be the Editor and other officials of the newspaper alleging therein that as a result of the reporting of the FIR and incident, the victim was being harassed daily and sustained mental torture hence the said report amounts to be defamatory in nature.

Lower court on taking cognizance of the above incident issued summons to the petitioners.

Analysis and Decision

Bench noted that the said newspaper as stated above published a report about a lady, who had filed an FIR alleging that she was sexually assaulted after being administered with some narcotics. Though the sum and substance of the FIR was mentioned in the report no identity disclosure of the victim was reported.

Further, the Court added that only because the petitioners were Publisher, Chief Editor, Senior Editor and Resident Editor of the newspaper, they were named as accused.

In the complaint submitted it was nowhere mentioned that the fact reported was false, rather it was admitted that the fact, which was reported was true and the FIR had already been lodged by the victim under Sections 376/328 of the IPC.

In view of the above, Court stated that on perusal of the newspaper report it was found that name of the victim was not disclosed and since nothing was found in the newspaper report, which could suggest that the identity was made known, no application of Section 228 A IPC was made out.

Hence the Court held that in the present case it was a news which was admitted to be not false, thus not amounting to the application of Section 500 or 501 of the Penal Code, 1860.

High Court allowed the present criminal miscellaneous petition in view of the above discussion. [Ashutosh Choubey v. State of Jharkhand, 2019 SCC OnLine Jhar 2484, decided on 24-10-2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Kerala High Court: P. Somarajan, J., observed that,

“…fourth estate is not expected to shy away from the matters governing public importance, but it is their solemn duty to serve the society with the news item with its pros and cons so as to bring the society more functional and vigil.”

The Managing Editor, the Chief Editor and the Printer and Publisher of a daily newspaper came up to quash the proceedings initiated on the allegation of the offence under Section 500 of Penal Code, 1860 through a private complaint on which cognizance was taken by the magistrate and process was issued under Section 204 of Criminal Procedure Code, 1973.

The news item published was based on a report submitted by the Vigilance to set the criminal law in motion against the defacto complainant.

With reference to the news item published, it was clear that what was reported was the true version of report submitted by the Vigilance against the defacto complainant and three others after conducting a preliminary enquiry and recommended registration of crime against them.

It is true that they were referred to as accused persons in the news item, even before registration of crime in connection with the allegations.

While addressing the instant matter, Court observed that,

It is the duty of the fourth estate to publish all news materials, especially having public importance and it is their further duty to comment on the news material with its pros and cons so as to enlighten the society to remain vigil on the matters of public importance.

It was further noted that,

fourth estate being one of the rostrums to address and comment on each and every matter governing public interest/ public importance in a democratic society, the news item published with necessary comments, though sometimes contemptuous, may not itself amount to defamation as defined under Section 499 IPC unless the same is lacking in good faith and not concerning with a matter of public interest or public good.

Section 499 IPC Proviso 1

Bench observed that the said provision has a wide canvass in a Democratic system and right to publish a news item with its necessary comments and views though sometimes contemptuous, cannot be defeated unless malafides writ large on its face and not concerning with a matter of public interest.

Contemptuous

Court observed that, Contemptuous nature of news item, if it is connected with the imputation of truth, which requires publication for the public goodwill not attract the offence and there shall not be any misunderstanding with respect to the requirement to attract Section 499 IPC with the first exception.

Hence, in the instant case, news item published will not attract the offence of defamation as defined under Section 499 IPC.

Further, it was that the private complaint submitted was really intended to defeat the solemn function vested with the fourth estate and it will tell upon what is behind it. The said fact is an abuse of the process of court, liable to be quashed. [Philip Mathew v. State of Kerala, 2020 SCC OnLine Ker 5105, decided on 13-11-2020]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Karnataka High Court: H.B. Prabhakara Sastry, J., while allowing the criminal revision in part, remarked that, if the accused seeks to take defense of truth under Section 499 Penal Code, 1860, it is upon him to prove that the statements made are facts.

 Brief Facts

The present criminal revision is instituted under Section 397 read with Section 401 Criminal Procedure Code, praying to set aside the judgment and sentence confirmed in criminal appeal no. 815 of 2010 by Additional Sessions Judge and also to set aside the judgment of conviction and sentence, passed by the Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate in CC No. 11445 of 2006, thereby acquitting the petitioner against charges of defamation under Section 500 IPC. The series of events leading to the present petition has been summarized hereunder:

  1. That the respondent-husband had instituted a case for restitution of conjugal rights against the petitioner which was decreed in his favour.
  2. That in the suit for conjugal rights, the wife made serious allegations against the husband questioning his character, repute, conduct and behaviour against which the husband filed a criminal case (CC No. 11445 of 2006), alleging the offences punishable under Section 500, 191, 193 IPC, 1860.
  3. That the said criminal case, after trial, ended in the conviction of the accused wife for the offence punishable under Section 500 IPC and was further directed to undergo a simple imprisonment for a period of one month along with payment of fine amounting to Rs 5000.
  4. Challenging the sentence and conviction, the wife preferred a Criminal Appeal in the Court of Additional Sessions Judge, which was dismissed by an order dated, 15-02-2012, confirming the decision of the Trial Court.
  5. That against the said confirmation and the judgment, the present criminal revision petition no. 152 of 2014 has been preferred by the wife and seeking enhancement of sentence, ordered by the Trial Court, a criminal revision petition no. 1358 of 2010 has been sought by the complainant (husband).

Both these Criminal Revision Petitions have been treated as connected matters and were taken up together for hearing and disposal.

Issue

  1. Whether the complainant has proved beyond reasonable doubt that the accused has committed an offence punishable under Section 500 IPC?
  2. Whether the sentence, as passed by the trial court, deserves to be enhanced?
  3. Whether the judgments and order on sentence impugned under these revision petitions suffer with any illegality, impropriety, warranting interference at the hands of the Court? 

Observations

The Court while reproducing Section 500 IPC, said, “In order to be defamatory, a publication must tend to lower the complainant in the opinion of men whose standard of opinion, the Court can properly recognize or tend to induce them to entertain an ill-opinion of him. However, the complainant need not show a tendency of imputation to prejudice him in the eye of every one in the community or all of his associates, but it is sufficient to establish that the publication tends to lower him in the estimation of a substantial, respectable group, even though they are totally different community or of the complainant’s associates.”

The Court further cited opinions of several Courts with respect to whether pleadings can constitute publication to determine the offence of Defamation, under Section 500 IPC.

  1. Chiranshree Das v. Amitabh Das, reported in LAWS(KAR)-2018-8-304; “Making a defamatory matter known after it has been written to some person other than the person for whom it is written is a ‘publication’ in its legal sense. A defamatory matter must, therefore, be communicated to some person other than the person concerning whom it is written.”
  2. Madhuri Mukund v. Mukund Martand, 1990 SCC OnLine Bom 410, “Bombay High Court observed that the imputations made in a proceeding which is filed in a Court is clearly a publication. It further observed that even a publication to an authority over the person against whom imputations are made must be held to be sufficient publication falling within the purview of Section 499 IPC.”
  3. K. Prabhakaran v. Gangadharan, 2006 SCC OnLine Ker 302, “Kerala High Court, in a matter where it is alleged that defamatory statements against complainant were made in a written statement filed before the Court held that, once a statement has been filed in the Court of law, that statement can be taken as published. If such statement amounts to per se defamatory, then it is the duty of the accused to establish that, they are justified in making such a statement under any of the exceptions to Section 499 IPC.”
  4. Sanjay Mishra v. NCT of Delhi, 2012 SCCOnLine Del 1779, “For criminal purposes ‘publication’ has a wider meaning than it has in Civil Law, since it includes a communication to the person defamed alone. The prosecution for defamation in criminal cases can be brought although the only publication is to the person defamed as it is very likely to provoke a breach between the persons involved.”
  5. Thangavelu Chettiar v. Ponnamal, 1965 SCC OnLine Mad 248, “Madras High Court was pleased to observe that, there can be no doubt that the defamation contained in the plaint was published by the plaint being filed in the Court.”

The Court further, examined the statements made by the wife before the trial court and said, “The contents of the statements of the accused, per se, reveal that the allegations are defamatory in nature unless they are shown to be falling under any of the exceptions within Section 499 IPC.” 

Decision

Allowing the criminal revision in part, the Court upheld the conviction on the ground of disclosing the allegations in the plaint to her relatives and friend. The sentence of simple imprisonment for the period of one month was set aside, on considerate terms and the fine amount was increased from Rs 5000 to Rs 15000.[Sushma Rani v. Nagaraja Rao, Criminal Revision Petition No. 152 of 2014, decided on 1-10-2020]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Madras High Court: G.K. Ilathiraiyan, J., observed that, Section 500 of the Penal Code, 1860 cannot be attracted wherein an advocate acts professionally on the instructions of his or her client.

The reason for present criminal original petitions was to quash the proceedings of Metropolitan Magistrate having been taken cognizance for the offences under Sections 500, 192 read with 34 of the Penal Code, 1860.

Five accused persons are there in the present petition, in which the petitioners are arrayed as A1 to A5. The second accused is an Advocate who appeared on behalf of other accused persons.

A1 to A5 are members of the Committee of Creditors. Respondent was initially appointed as the Insolvency Resolution Professional of Oceanic Edibles International Limited which is undergoing Corporate Insolvency Resolution Process by the National Company Law Tribunal, Chennai.

In light of several allegations against the respondent, accused persons filed an application seeking appointment of another Resolution Professional, after which the respondent was removed and another person was appointed as Resolution Professional.

Respondent stated that petitioners made statements which were defamatory in nature resulting in defaming his reputation.

Statements like:

a) Resolution Professional “is not up to the expected standard” (para 21)

b) “He is only keen on entering into the brawl with everyone, thus undermining the judicial process, if he is allowed to continue the interest of COC will be jeopardized”(para 21)

c) COC had already lost precious 50 days from the date of his appointment, no effective business has been conducted to evolve the resolution process in a forward-moving directions (para 22)

d) Resolution professional has misrepresented to media violating the code of conduct (para 23)

e) seeking amendments in IBC is beyond the Rps scope(para 18)

f) resolution professional again sent mails to the top executives wherein he had made statements to the top executives in a very unethical manner and uncalled for (para 19)

Petitioner Counsel submitted that the petitioners were members of COC vested with statutory powers under the IBC to replace the Resolution Professional in the manner provided under IBC. Accordingly, they instructed their counsel namely the second accused to filed an application before the NCLT.

In view of the above, Court stated that it would not attract offence under Section 499 IPC.

Section 499 IPC:

Defamation.—Whoever, by words either spoken or intended to be read, or by signs or by visible representations, makes or publishes any imputation concerning any person intending to harm, or knowing or having reason to believe that such imputation will harm, the reputation of such person, is said, except in the cases hereinafter expected, to defame that person.

Bench stated that the statements of the petitioners do not attract Section 499 of IPC. A2 was an advocate for other accused persons and filed an application on the instruction of COC before the NCLT to remove the respondent.

Petitioners Counsel relied on the decision in Ayeasha Bi v. Peerkhan Sahib,1953 SCC OnLine Mad 3, wherein it was held that,

“…a lawyer is an advocate, one who speaks for another.Naturally beyond what his client tells him the lawyer has no opportunity to test the truth or falsity of the story put forward by the client.”

Kerala High Court in K. Daniel v. T. Hymavathy Amma, 1985 SCC OnLine Ker 110, held that the English Courts have reiterated the view during last four hundred years that the statements made by Judges, Juries, counsel, parties and witnesses in the course of judicial proceedings are not actionable in civil law for defamation as the occasion is absolutely privileged. 

Supreme Court along with various High Courts repeatedly held that,

an advocate who acted professionally as per the instruction of his or her client cannot be made criminally liable for offence of defamation under Section 500 unless contrary is alleged and established.

Hence, the Court allowed the criminal original petitions and the entire proceedings on the file of the Metropolitan Magistrate Court, Chennai. [M.L. Ganesh v. CA V. Venkata Siva Kumar, 2020 SCC OnLine Mad 2732, decided on 30-09-2020]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Calcutta High Court: Debangsu Basak, J., while addressing a matter with regard to defamation, observed that

“in a civil action for defamation, the plea of absolute privilege protects a statement as no action would lie for it, however false and defamatory it may be, even though, it was made maliciously and with an improper motive.”

Plaintiff claimed that the defendant made a statement in an application seeking divorce from his wife which allegedly is defamatory.

Defendant submits that the cause of action of the plaintiff is barred by law.

Further, he states that a civil action for defamation does not lie in respect of a statement made in a pleading filed in a judicial proceeding.

Advocates Dipak Prahladka and Aindrila De appearing for the plaintiff submitted that the plaintiff was married to the elder sister of the defendants’ wife.

Defendant and his wife stayed at a rented flat in Mumbai. After a few months, wife of the defendant left the defendant and came to Allahabad. After a few days, the wife of the defendant along with her mother went to Mumbai where they were informed that the defendant left the flat. Hence they returned to Allahabad.

Defendant after a few weeks filed a petition under Section 11 and 12(1-b) read with Section 12 (1-d) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 before the Family Court, Ranchi praying for an order of decree of declaration of marriage to be null and void.

Later, the wife lodged a complaint against the defendant under Sections 498A, 406, 313, 323, 504, 506 of the Penal Code, 1860 and Section 3 and 4 of the Domestic Violence Act.

Due to the above-said police complaint, family court had issued summons to the plaintiff for settlement of issues in the divorce petition. The divorce petition contained defamatory statements.

Plaintiff advocate submitted that the civil defamation part is yet to be codified.

A statement once made in a pleading filed before a court of law, is a publication of such statement. Such a statement does not enjoy absolute privilege.

Plaintiff sought a decree of Rs 10 crores against the defendant.

The cause of action of the plaintiff was based on the statements claimed to be defamatory in nature, made by the defendant in a proceeding in which the defendant sought a decree of divorce against his wife.

Laws of defamation recognises that statements made in public can be protected from prosecution in a Court of law under certain circumstances. Absolute privilege attaches to public statements made in certain circumstances.

Defamation

In India, defamation gives rise to two types of liabilities — the civil side and one on the criminal side.

On the criminal side, the liability for defamatory statements is governed by Sections 499 and 500 of the Penal Code, 1860. However, there is no statute governing the civil liability of a defamatory statement.

Plea of Absolute Privilege

Further, in a civil action for defamation, the plea of absolute privilege has been held to be a good defence. Absolute privilege protects a statement as no action would lie for it, however false and defamatory it may be, even though, it was made maliciously and with an improper motive.

For the plaintiff’s application claiming that the defendant is guilty of perjury, defendant tendered an unqualified apology for making the wrong statement and the Court accepted the same. [Atul Kumar Pandey v. Kumar Avinash,  2020 SCC OnLine Cal 994, decided on 17-06-2020]

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 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]