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SC asks Centre to respond to plea on penal defamation laws

The Supreme Court on Thursday sought the government's response on a plea filed by a media professionals' organisation challenging the constitutional validity of certain provisions including penal laws on defamation.



New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday sought the government's response on a plea filed by a media professionals' organisation challenging the constitutional validity of certain provisions including penal laws on defamation.

"Issue notice. A copy of this petition be served on the office of the Attorney General of India in course of the day. Let the matter be listed along with Writ Petition ... On July 14," a bench comprising Justices Dipak Misra and Prafulla C Pant said.

The court is already hearing similar pleas of political leaders like Rahul Gandhi, Subramanian Swamy and Arvind Kejriwal. They have challenged the validity of sections 499 and 500 (defamation) of the IPC on the ground that these provisions violate freedom of speech and expressions.

The plea, which came up for hearing today, has been filed by the Foundation For Media Professionals through its Director Manoj Mitta.

Besides the penal laws on defamation, the foundation has also sought quashing of sections 199(1) and 199(2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) which deal with the procedures of prosecution in criminal defamation cases.

"It is urged by him (counsel for the petitioner) that a situation has arisen where everyone is asserting himself to be the person aggrieved and clothing himself with the locus standi to launch prosecution under Sections 499 and 500 (defamation) of the IPC. It is urged by him that Section 199 (1) is also unreasonable unless it is read down," the court said.

Senior advocate Anup J Bhambani, appearing for the organisation, said any person could come to court and file a criminal defamation case claiming that he has been hurt or defamed.

"The territorial applicability of Section 179 of CrPC may be limited to proper location where journalistic publication is made (as per the declaration made by the newspaper under the provisions of the Press and Registration of Books Act) as opposed to where it is circulated or read/viewed; and in the case of broadcasts and on-line publications (which do not fall within the purview of the PRB Act), territorial jurisdiction should vest in the place where the registered office of the broadcaster/on-line publication is situated," it said.

Earlier, the Centre had told the court that the petitions challenging the validity of penal provisions on defamation should be referred to a constitution bench.

Granting time to the Centre to file response to the petitions, the bench had said "in our considered opinion, the said facet shall be addressed to and dealt with while dealing with the merits of the case."

Attorney General Mukul Rohtagi and Additional Solicitor General P S Narsimha, appearing for Centre, had said the hearing by a constitution bench was needed as the cases relate to Article 19(2) (reasonable restrictions to freedom of speech) of the Constitution, with regard to sections 499 and 500 (criminal defamation) of the IPC.

The bench is hearing petitions filed by various persons including BJP leader Swamy, Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi and the Delhi Chief Minister.

The court, which has stayed proceedings against these leaders in separate defamation cases, is to decide on their pleas that these two provisions were unconstitutional as they violated freedom of speech and expression.

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