Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Free speech may get fresh SC boost



Apex Court To Examine Constitutional Validity Of Criminal Defamation Laws
Within weeks after striking down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, the Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to examine the constitutional validity of Section 499 and 500 of IPC making defamation an offence punishable by up to a two-year jail term.A bench of Justices Dipak Misra and Prafulla C Pant asked the Centre to spell out its stand on decriminalizing defamation law.
The court was hearing a petition filed by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy who is facing defamation charges for making statements against AIADMK chief J Jayalalithaa.
Defamation proceedings can also be initiated by filing a civil suit.

Swamy contended that criminal defamation is unconstitutional as it puts unreasonable restrictions on people's right to free speech and expression and it should be scrapped for violation of fundamental rights. Addi tional Solicitor General P S Narasimha, however, contended that defamation is mentioned in Article 19(2) of the Constitution which deals with restrictions on freedom of speech. He said Section 500 of the IPC is legal.
The bench, after hearing the arguments, directed the Centre and the Tamil Nadu government to file affidavit and granted them four weeks' time. It also appointed senior advocates T R Andharujina and K Parasaran as amicus curie (friend of the court) to assist it in the case.They also said the issue needed a debate. The court, which had stayed the defamation proceedings against Swamy, extended the stay till further orders. Five defamation cases were filed against Swamy after he allegedly made some allegations against Jayalalithaa on social networking sites.
SC calls for respect of foreign courts
Orders passed by foreign courts on matrimonial disputes involving Indian origin couples should be respected by Indian courts, the Supreme Court has said. The apex court ruling has implication for cases where relief is sought in India after one of the parties returns to the country.
Times View
The law on criminal defamation needs to go. Yes, people need to be protected from being defamed, but such protection is quite adequately provided by having a law that allows for civil defamation cases. The criminal defamation law is actually the best friend of those in public life who would like their wrongdoings to remain out of public view. It is an instrument in their hands to harass mediapersons by dragging them to courts across the country and through sheer harassment seek to block the expose. It is not without reason that almost all modern, liberal societies have done away with criminal defamation provisions. It is now for India to choose whether it wants to be counted among their ranks or alongside the likes of China, where free speech isn't the most cherished value.