Judicial process shouldn’t be instrument of operation or needless harassment: Allahabad HC

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ALLAHABAD: While cautioning the courts to be circumspect and judicious in exercising the discretion and issuing process, the Allahabad High Court quashed the summoning order passed against the editorial staff of a newspaper, in connection with a defamation case.
“It is prime duty of the press to expose the Government and its functionaries, if they indulge in misgovernance or acts against the law and constitutional principles. If the press finds itself being cycled by the threat of prosecution, it cannot perform its duty, and it will have a chilling effect on the very right of free speech and freedom as guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution,” Justice Dinesh Kumar Singh remarked.
The Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate had summoned the Group Editor, Local Editor and Press Reporter (Applicants) of Hindi news daily, ‘Rashtriya Sahara’, in a defamation case filed by erstwhile Minister of State Department of Energy (Respondent).
Allegedly, the Applicants had published false news against the Respondent, imputing him of demanding Rs. 10 lakh bribe from a Civil Engineer, and transferring him on his failure to comply.
The Respondent had contended that the Applicants had colluded with each other, and published the aforesaid news item, with an intention to malign and denigrate his, as well as the State’s reputation in the eyes of public in general.
The court, tasked with deciding the maintainability of the summoning order, assessed the case on two fronts.
It firstly stated that “intention” was an important factor in determination of the offence of defamation. “To constitute the offence of defamation under Section 499 IPC, there has to be imputation, and it must have been made in the manner with intention of causing harm or having reason to believe that this imputation will harm reputation of a person…Mens rea is a condition 6 precedent to constitute the offence of defamation. The complaint must disclose that the accused had intended or accused had reasonable cause to believe that the imputation made by him would harm the reputation of the complainant,” it said.
The second aspect was with regards the maintainability of the original defamation suit, especially in context to Section 199 of CrPC. As per this provision, if a person defames a Minister in respect of his conduct in the discharge of his public functions, a Court of Session may take cognizance of such offence, without the case being committed to it, upon a complaint in writing made by the Public Prosecutor. However, this requirement was not fulfilled by the Respondent in the present case.
The Bench thus cautioned the courts to be circumspect and judicious in exercising the discretion and issuing process with the Magistrates applying judicial mind on the complaints, and facts of the case, before taking cognizance and issuing process, summoning the accused.