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Delhi High Court Issues Notice On MJ Akbar's Plea Against Priya Ramani's Acquittal In Criminal Defamation Case

LIVELAW NEWS NETWORK
11 Aug 2021 8:22 AM GMT
Delhi High Court Issues Notice On MJ Akbars Plea Against Priya Ramanis Acquittal In Criminal Defamation Case
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The Delhi High Court today issued notice on an appeal preferred by former Union Minister MJ Akbar, challenging the acquittal of journalist Priya Ramani in the criminal defamation case filed by him over the "metoo" sexual harassment allegations made by her.Justice Mukta Gupta issued notice to the Respondent and fixed the case for hearing on January 13, 2022.The Court heard Senior Advocate's...

The Delhi High Court today issued notice on an appeal preferred by former Union Minister MJ Akbar, challenging the acquittal of journalist Priya Ramani in the criminal defamation case filed by him over the "metoo" sexual harassment allegations made by her.

Justice Mukta Gupta issued notice to the Respondent and fixed the case for hearing on January 13, 2022.

The Court heard Senior Advocate's Geeta Luthra and Rajiv Nayar for the Appellant who stated that the Trial Court had erred in acquitting Ramani, even after coming to a finding that her tweets were defamatory in nature.

"My case was under Section 499 IPC and the Trial Court found that the contents are defamatory. So the minute such a finding is returned, nothing further has to be adjudicated. These observations pertaining to sexual harassment are unnecessary," Nayar argued.

The Court however told Nayar that determining whether the contents are defamatory or not is only the first step in prosecution.

"That's first step. If it is is found not defamatory, there's no need to go further. But if it's found that the contents are defamatory, then 2nd step is to determine whether the defence taken by her was right," the Court opined.

At this juncture, Nayar pointed out that the Trial Court had even rejected her defence. The Trial Court had said, "the defence of the accused regarding publication of only particular portion qua the complainant in document Ex. CW1/9 and remaining portion with respect to the other male bosses is rejected."

In this regard, the appeal states:

 "On one hand, while the impugned judgement itself states that the article written by the Accused, which was subsequently linked to the Complainant, was defamatory, and simultaneously rejects the defence 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 Ld. Trial Court, even after holding as above, has acquitted the Accused, without providing adequate reasons for such acquittal."

Senior Advocate Geeta Luthra contended that during trial, the Court left the question of admissibility of documents open, for determination at the time of Judgment. However, they were not decided. "Instead, the Court goes on to talk about Ram and Ravan..." she submitted.

She added that the Trial Court accepted contention of accused and possibility of defence of accused that she disclosed the truth regarding sexual ­harassment against her. "You cant rely on "possibility of defence" she said.

The appeal states:

"Trial Court has committed a grave error in basing its judgement on the possibility of a defence in favour of the Respondent. It is well established that an acquittal in a defamation case, based on the possibility of a defence 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 defence 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 a defence, therefore, is an apparent error and ought not be upheld."

The criminal defamation case was filed by MJ Akbar in a Delhi Court in October 2018, after he was accused by several women of sexual harassment, following a tweet by Ramani as part of the '#MeToo' movement, revealing that the person referred to as a sexual harasser in an earlier article written by her in 'The Vogue' was Akbar.

A Delhi Court on February 17 acquitted Priya Ramani in the Case.

"Woman has a right to put up the grievance at any platform of her choice even after decades. Woman cannot be punished for raising voice agains sex abuse . Right to reputation cannot be protected at the cost of right to dignity", the trial Court observed while acquitting Priya Ramani in the case.
In his appeal, Akbar has said,
"Trial Court erroneously acquitted the Respondent herein for the offence of defamation, despite holding that the defence qua Ex. CW1/9, the main impugned article, was rejected...Trial Court completely departs from the facts in issue and makes general observations (on sexual harassment)."

Arguments on leave to appeal were conducted by Mr. Akbar's legal team, Senior Advocates Rajiv Nayar and Geeta Luthra, along with a team from Karanjawala & Co., led by Sandeep Kapur, Senior Partner.

Case Title: MJ Akbar Vs Priya Ramani

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