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Supreme Court upholds defamation law

The Supreme Court on Friday upheld the constitutional validity of penal provisions on defamation law, observing that the right to freedom of speech is “not an absolute right.”

Supreme Court upholds defamation law
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Supreme Court of India

New Delhi

The bench passed the judgement on a batch of petitions filed by Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, BJP leader Subramanian Swamy and others. 

“We have held that penal provisions are constitutionally valid,” a bench comprising Justices Dipak Misra and Prafulla C Pant said. “The right to freedom of speech and expression is not an absolute right,” the court said. The bench directed magistrates across the country to be extremely careful in issuing summons on private complaints on defamation. 

Sections 499 and 500 of the IPC, dealing with the criminal defamation, and section 119 of the Code of Criminal Procedure are constitutionally valid, the court ruled. Section 500 deals with the provision of punishment for defamation which entails up to two years’ imprisonment or fine or both. 

The bench said the stay of criminal proceedings granted by it in the trial court on the batch of petitions challenging the issue of summons will continue for eight weeks, during which the petitioners can file their appeal before respective High Courts for seeking relief in terms of the judgement. 

The bench said the interim protection given to them will continue for eight weeks. After the verdict was pronounced, senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Rahul, said the Congress leader has to appear before trial court on July 19 and the order granting stay of proceedings for eight weeks will not cover him. Sibal wanted the stay to be extended till July 19 but the bench said he can seek relief by mentioning it in July. 

Rahul and Swamy have been charged with criminal defamation under sections 499 and 500 of the IPC for their political speeches made in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra respectively.

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