New Delhi Aug 11 (ILNS): The Delhi High Court today deferred the hearing of an appeal filed by former Union Minister MJ Akbar against the acquittal of journalist Priya Ramani passed by the trial court in the criminal defamation suit filed by Akbar.
Justice Mukta Gupta called for the record of the trial court proceedings and sent notice to Priya Ramani to appear before the court on the next date of hearing on August 13.
Akbar was represented by Senior Advocates Rajiv Nayar and Geeta Luthra, briefed by a team of lawyers from Karanjawala & Co, led by Sandeep Kapur, Senior Partner, and advocates Vir Sandhu, Rajat Soni, Vivek Suri, Niharika Karanjawala, Apoorva Pandey and Sidhant Singh.
The Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate (ACMM) Ravinder Kumar Pandey had, on February 17, 2021, acquitted Priya Ramani for offenses of defamation. The trial in the case continued for almost two years. Akbar through his present appeal against the trial court order, contended that he is constrained to say that the Trial Court erroneously acquitted Ramani for the offense of defamation, despite holding that the main article, was rejected. While passing the judgment, the Trial Court has failed to appreciate the arguments advanced and submissions made, which were based on evidence adduced during the trial. The ACMM failed to deal with the arguments as well as the evidence available on record, says the appeal.
Senior Counsel Geeta Luthra said that the judgment suffers from grave infirmities, which is apparent from the fact that, while dealing with the present complaint, the Court completely departs from the facts in issue and makes general observations, without addressing the averments made by the Complainant. Moreover, while doing so, the Trial Court has not ascribed any reason for disregarding the evidence led by the Complainant, as well as the testimony of the Complainant’s witnesses.
The judgment, furthermore, suffers from non application of mind, which has led to crucial errors. On one hand, while the judgment itself states that the article written
by the accused, which was subsequently linked to the complainant, was defamatory, and simultaneously rejects the defense of the accused that only part of the article applied to the complainant and the remainder did not, it ultimately acquits the accused. It would
follow that the accused, once her argument is rejected and her publication is held to be defamatory, would be convicted. However, the Trial Court, even after holding as above, has acquitted the accused,
“On perusal and on the joint reading of document the Court is of the considered view that its contents are defamatory in nature and some facts found in the article find
no mention regarding the clarification and marking distinction that particular portion of the article pertains to the complainant and another portion pertains to other male bosses
in general. Hence, the defense of the accused regarding the publication of only a particular portion qua the complainant in document Ex. CW1/9 and remaining portion with respect to
the other male bosses is rejected.”
It is submitted that, even after accepting the contention of the Complainant, the Trial Court has not convicted the Accused, which is the logical outcome of such a finding and, therefore, is an error apparent on the face of the record.
The Trial Court has committed a grave error in basing its judgment on the possibility of defense in favor of the Respondent. It is well established that an acquittal in a defamation case, based on the possibility of defense is bad in law, indeed, precedent states that if there is any doubt as to whether the defamatory statement is true or not, there is no defense at all and that no protection extends to an Accused if a defamatory statement merely ‘may be true.
Acquitting the Respondent on the basis of the possibility of defense, therefore, is an apparent error and ought not to be upheld.
It is further submitted that, in passing the judgment, the Trial Court has ignored well-established principles of criminal jurisprudence and deliberated upon the instant
case as though it is one of sexual harassment, not defamation; The Trial Court has exceeded its jurisdiction. Finally, the judgment, which is based on surmises and conjecture, cannot stand muster even from a prima facie view, and therefore, is liable to be set aside, the petitioner contended.
The criminal defamation case was filed by Akbar after Ramani leveled sexual harassment allegations against him during the #MeToo movement of 2018.
Ramani claimed that in December 1993, MJ Akbar sexually harassed her when she was called to The Oberoi, Mumbai for a job interview.
The Trial Court had taken note of systemic abuse at the workplace and highlighted that the Vishaka Guidelines on sexual harassment at the workplace put forth by the Supreme Court in 1997 were not in effect at the time of the incident.
“Right of reputation can’t be protected at the cost of the right to dignity,” the Trial Court had said. It was also stated that a woman had a right to put her grievance at any platform of her choice and even after decades.The Trial Court had also accepted Ramani’s stand that Akbar was not a man of stellar reputation./ILNS/SNG