SC reserves verdict on challenge to criminal defamation provisions

New Delhi : The Supreme Court on Thursday reserved its verdict on a batch of petitions including by Congress vice -president Rahul Gandhi, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and BJP leader Subramanian Swamy challenging the constitutional validity of Indian Penal Code’s provisions on criminal defamation.

A bench of Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Prafulla C. Pant reserved the verdict after hearing the matter spread over for more than a month where in the central government defended the penal provisions, saying that they were required as a “deterrent” to curb irresponsible speech.

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The government had pressed for their retention on the grounds that while in other countries, defamation cases are decided very fast, but in India, it takes years and even decades before they reach conclusions.

The court embarked on examining the validity of the Indian Penal Code’s sections 499 and 500 providing for criminal defamation on the petition by Bharatiya Janata Party’s Swamy who contended that the restrictions travelled beyond the constitution’s article 19(2) that imposes reasonable restriction on freedom of speech and expression.

Swamy has urged the apex court to declare that sections 499 (Defamation) and 500 (Punishment forAdefamation) and the Code of Criminal Procedure’s section 199(2) (prosecution for defamation of high dignitaries and public servants) unconstitutional.

Soon after Swamy’s petition, the challenge to the penal provision was joined by Kejriwal, Gandhi and others.

The court in its verdict is likely to address the plea by the government that the challenge to the IPC provisions should be referred to the constitution bench as the same was in the context of the reasonable restriction under article 19(2). This position was supported by amicus curiae T.R. Andhyarujina.

“In our considered opinion, the said facet shall be addressed to and dealt with while dealing with the merits of the case,” the court had said on July 8 while noting the plea.

As Swamy, Gandhi and Kejriwal argued that criminal defamation has been abolished in many countries, the court is likely to address “whether abolition of such a criminal action in other countries can really have any impact or effect when this court adjudges or decides the constitutional validity of a statutory provision, regard being had to our written, controlled and organic constitution”.