The Supreme Court on Friday upheld the constitutional validity of India’s criminal defamation law that was contested by Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and BJP leader Subramanian Swamy.
The petitioners had argued that the criminal defamation law was in conflict with the freedom of speech and expression.
But the top court did not agree.
The bench of Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Prafulla C. Pant, while upholding the relevant sections of the Criminal Procedure Code and Indian Penal Code, notably Section 499 of the former and Section 500 of the civil law, said defamation doesn’t have any “chilling effect on freedom of speech”.
“It is not necessary for all in the chorus to sing the same song,” Justice Misra said, pronouncing the judgment.
A magistrate should be extremely careful in issuing summons on a plea for the initiation of any criminal defamation case, he said.
The verdict was reserved on August 13 last year after the court heard the matter for over a month.
Section 499 deals with words spoken or written by someone with the intention to harm the reputation of another. Section 500 deals with the possible sentence for defamation, which may be a simple imprisonment for a term up to two years, a fine or both.
The verdict assumes significance in the light of a host of defamation cases in the political spectrum, especially the one filed against Chief Minister Kejriwal by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.