May,8,2015: Plea in SC challenges constitutionality of criminal defamation under IPC.
The Supreme Court on Thursday stayed criminal defamation proceedings against Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi in a Maharashtra court for allegedly blaming the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh for the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.
The Supreme Court, which stayed the criminal defamation proceedings against the Congress vice-president, also relieved him from making an appearance before the trial court on Friday to face charges.
The Amethi MP won the relief at the hearing of his writ petition before a Bench led by Justice Dipak Misra challenging the constitutionality of criminal defamation under Sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code.
This petition has been tagged with identical pleas made separately by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, BJP leader Subramanian Swamy and DMDK leader Vijaykanth. They will be heard on July 8.
The Bench said it would confine itself to the question of law on whether criminal defamation was contemplated under Article 19 (2) as a reasonable restriction on the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression.
Justice Misra said the Bench would not go into the merits of the criminal case against Mr. Gandhi, or for that matter the other two cases. “We are not going to deal with the facts or merits of the case. We are only going to look into the constitutionality of Sections 499 and 500 of the IPC,” Justice Misra said.
He also said the Supreme Court was not “impressed” by the arguments made by some counsel that since European courts abrogated criminal defamation, India should follow suit. “Those kinds of things do not impress us. We will go by our Constitution,” Justice Misra said.
In a writ petition, Mr. Gandhi contended that Sections 499 and 500, carrying a two-year maximum imprisonment, violated the principle of proportionality in comparison to the gravity of the offence. The criminal complaint was filed against Mr. Gandhi by the Thane-based businessman Rajesh Mahadev Kunte.
“Generally, criminal defamation laws are inherently harsh and have a disproportionate ‘chilling effect’ on free expression. Individuals face the constant threat of being arrested, held in pre-trial detention, subjected to expensive criminal trials, and then in the event of conviction, saddled with a criminal record, fines and imprisonment, and the social stigma associated with this,” the petition settled by senior advocates P.P. Rao and Mahalakshmi Pavani, and filed by advocate Santosh Krishnan said.
Citing the recent Supreme Court verdict quashing Section 66A of the IT Act, the petitioner said the provision earlier threatened the personal liberties of citizen journalists and bloggers.
“Such provisions undeniably dampen the citizen’s drive to engage in legitimate public critique, especially since allegations of criminal defamation are notoriously difficult to disprove. This could potentially cause high-level political misdeeds such as law of defamation being used as a tool to settle political scores,” the petition said.Hindu