The State government has preferred writ appeals before the Madras High Court against a single judge’s much-acclaimed verdict that public servants and constitutional functionaries cannot be allowed to misuse the law of criminal defamation by using the State as a tool to initiate defamation proceedings against their adversaries.
Justice Abdul Quddhose passed the judgment on May 21 this year while quashing a number of criminal defamation proceedings initiated against a host of Editors, publishers and journalists by the erstwhile Jayalalithaa government.
“The State cannot use criminal defamation cases to throttle democracy,” he observed in his common judgment on the batch of cases.
Now, preferring writ appeals against select respondents who included S. Selvam of DMK’s official organ Murasoli and Sunil Nair, former Resident Editor of The Times of India, Chennai, the government claimed that the judgment of the single judge was against law, weightage of evidence and probabilities of individual cases that were before him.
When the writ appeals were listed for admission before the first Division Bench of Chief Justice Amreshwar Pratap Sahi and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy on Monday, a government advocate urged the court to adjourn the matter by a week so that he could engage the Advocate General to argue the matter.
Not finding any necessity to grant a short adjournment or an urgent hearing in what he described as a “luxury litigation,” the Chief Justice directed the Registry to list the case after six weeks.
In his 152-page judgment, Justice Quddhose had said the State must act like a parent of all its citizens when it came to invocation of the law of defamation.
“It is normal for some parents to face vituperative insults from their children. Despite those insults, parents don’t disown their children quite easily.”
“An individual or a public servant/constitutional functionary can be impulsive but not the State which will have to show utmost restraint and maturity in filing criminal defamation cases… The law cannot be misused by using the State as a tool to settle scores of a public servant/constitutional functionary over his/her adversary,” he had added.
The judge also pointed out that public servants could file defamation cases in their individual capacity before the courts of judicial magistrates under Section 199(6) of the Code of Criminal Procedure but not directly before the Sessions Court, under Section 199(2), when no defamation against the State had been made out.
Taking objection to such observation, the State in its writ appeals said that an offence committed against the functionaries of a State was actually an offence committed against the State and hence, the government would be perfectly justified in launching prosecution against the offenders before a court of sessions.