Judicial process should not be an instrument of operation or needless harassment

Ranvijay Singh and Ors Vs State Of UP and Anr

Allahabad HC

20/12/2019

Application U/S 482 No. 284/2013

About/from the judgment:

"It is prime duty of the press to expose the Government and its functionaries, if they indulge in misgovernance or acts against the law and constitutional principles. If the press finds itself being cycled by the threat of prosecution, it cannot perform its duty, and it will have a chilling effect on the very right of free speech and freedom as guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution," the court remarked.

 

Background

 

The Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate had summoned the Group Editor, Local Editor and Press Reporter (Applicants) of a Hindi news daily, 'Rashtriya Sahara', in a defamation case filed by erstwhile Minister of State Department of Energy (Respondent).

 

Allegedly, the Applicants had published false news against the Respondent, imputing him of demanding Rs. 10 lakh bribe from a Civil Engineer, and transferring him on his failure to comply.

The Respondent had contended that the Applicants had colluded with each other, and published the aforesaid news item, with an intention to malign and denigrate his, as well as the State's reputation in the eyes of public in general.

 

Findings

 

The court, tasked with deciding the maintainability of the summoning order, assessed the case on two fronts.

It firstly stated that "intention" was an important factor in determination of the offence of defamation.

 

"To constitute the offence of defamation under Section 499 IPC, there has to be imputation, and it must have been made in the manner with intention of causing harm or having reason to believe that this imputation will harm reputation of a person…Mens rea is a condition 6 precedent to constitute the offence of defamation. The complaint must disclose that the accused had intended or accused had reasonable cause to believe that the imputation made by him would harm the reputation of the complainant," it said.

 

The court noted that the impugned news item was factually based on two letters. Further, the Respondent had not tried to degenerate those letters. Thus it observed,

 

"The news item was factually based on the two letters. If there is no imputation, it cannot be said that the offence of defamation has been committed by the accused. In the complaint it has not been alleged that these two letters are forged. If these two letters are not denied, the news item cannot, in any manner, be said to be defamatory."

 

The second aspect was with regards the maintainability of the original defamation suit, especially in context to Section 199 of CrPC. As per this provision, if a person defames a Minister in respect of his conduct in the discharge of his public functions, a Court of Session may take cognizance of such offence, without the case being committed to it, upon a complaint in writing made by the Public Prosecutor. However, this requirement was not fulfilled by the Respondent in the present case. Thus it was held,

 

"the complaint was not maintainable before the Magistrate as there is specific provision that the complaint should be filed through a Public Prosecutor in the Court of Session, if Defamation is alleged in respect of performance of the public duty by the person mentioned in Section 199(2) CrPC. In the present case, the news item was published with respect to his functioning as the Minister of Energy in State Government, the complaint could have been filed only through a Public Prosecutor, after taking sanction as prescribed."

 

Cautioning the courts to be circumspect and judicious in exercising the discretion and issuing process, the court said,

"For the offence of criminal defamation, the burden is on the Magistrate to scrutinize the complaint on all aspects, and he is required to satisfy himself that the ingredients of Section 499 IPC are satisfied. The Magistrate must apply his judicial mind on the complaint, and facts of the case, before taking cognizance and issuing process, summoning the accused."

 

The court went on to cite the Supreme Court in Pepsi Foods Ltd. & Anr. v. Special Judicial Magistrate & Ors., (1998) 5 SCC 749, and said,

 

"It is well settled that the judicial process should not be an instrument of operation or needless harassment. The Court should be circumspect and judicious in exercising the discretion and only after taking all the relevant facts and circumstances into consideration should issue the process. The judicial process should not be an instrument in hands of the private complainant as vendetta to harass the person. The criminal law should not be set into motion as a matter of course..."

Read the Judgment

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