Defamation Law Contested By Rahul Gandhi, Arvind Kejriwal Remains

Supreme Court today upheld the validity of criminal defamation law challenged by the likes of Rahul Gandhi, Arvind Kejriwal and Subramanian Swamy.

New Delhi: The Supreme Court has said that politicians like Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and the BJP's Subramanian Swamy, who have been sued for criminal defamation, will have to face trial in the cases against them.

Here are the latest developments:

  1. The court upheld the constitutional validity of criminal defamation laws, which were challenged by Mr Gandhi, Mr Swamy, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and other politicians and journalists through separate petitions.  

  2. But in its order it has stayed cases of criminal defamation against the petitioners for eight weeks to allow them to challenge the suits in a high court. The Supreme Court said magistrates must be careful while issuing summons in such cases.

  3. "We have to strike a balance between fundamental rights to freedom of speech and the reputation of an individual," the court said, and added that it was "difficult to say that criminal defamation has a chilling effect on freedom of speech and expression".  

  4. "The right of reputation under Article 21 of Constitution cannot be allowed to be crucified at the altar of freedom of speech," the court observed, holding that no individual can be allowed to sully another's reputation.  

  5. Saying the judgement is not entirely disappointing, Mr Swamy today said, "The court has now provided sufficient safeguards for politicians to be unable to use or misuse the law, to me it's an 80 per cent success. I can always go to constitutional bench and challenge the same thing if there is no improvement in situation."

  6. The petitioners had argued that sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code or IPC, which provide for criminal defamation, are not needed as the Constitution imposes reasonable restriction on freedom of speech and expression.

  7. The law, they alleged, has been misused by politicians to gag rivals and the media. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa has filed around 130 defamation cases against her political rivals in the state.

  8. BJP leader Subramanian Swamy had first approached the top court challenging the defamation laws, after the J Jayalalithaa government filed a number of cases against him.

  9. The Centre and various state governments argued that these provisions in the law must be retained as they deter people from maligning the reputation of others. They pleaded that scrapping defamation laws would lead to anarchy, with no check on what people say about others.

  10. The Indian Penal Code makes defamation an offence punishable by up to a two-year jail term. Verdict was reserved in August last year, after a Supreme Court bench of Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Prafulla C. Pant heard the matter spread over a month.



Highlights

  • Supreme Court has upheld the validity of criminal defamation laws
  • Petitioners say defamations laws misused to gag political rivals
  • Centre, states had argued laws must be retained as "deterrent"
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