10 Feb 2023 7:14 AM GMT
The Delhi High Court has said that statements made by a lawyer during judicial proceedings are conferred with an “absolute privilege” and no action for defamation, slander or libel can lie against them for advancing the submissions. Observing that such statements are “complete defence against any allegations of defamation”, Justice Mini Pushkarna said that justice system would...
The Delhi High Court has said that statements made by a lawyer during judicial proceedings are conferred with an “absolute privilege” and no action for defamation, slander or libel can lie against them for advancing the submissions.
Observing that such statements are “complete defence against any allegations of defamation”, Justice Mini Pushkarna said that justice system would be adversely affected “if lawyers were to be in fear of law themselves” for any submission or statement made by them during a hearing.
“Thus, any statement made by a counsel during court hearings is a privileged occasion and no counsel can be made liable for any action for libel or slander in respect of any statement made thereto,” the court said.
It added that it is necessary to protect statements made by lawyers during proceedings as absolute privilege and that they “cannot be put to trial for defamation” on the basis of such statements.
The court noted that it has been held in various judgments that any restriction on the privilege granted to advocates during a hearing would hamper the process of administration of justice.
“Thus, any statement made by any Advocate during the course of judicial proceedings would be protected in public interest and absolute privilege in that case would be a complete defence,” the court added.
It also said that lawyers cannot be obligated to examine the complete relevancy of statements made by them during hearings and thus, it is necessary to protect such statements as an absolute privilege.
“Independence and freedom needs to be accorded to the counsels for putting their case before the Court with complete liberty, without any fear or threat that they may be embroiled in a litigation for any statement made by them in Court during judicial proceedings,” it said.
Justice Pushkarna made the observations while rejecting a suit moved by a businessman against a senior counsel alleging that a statement made by him during the course of arguments in open court was defamatory.
The plaintiff had sought Rs. 2 crores of damages from the Senior Advocate towards “loss and harm caused to his reputation and goodwill” by the alleged defamatory statement.
It was submitted by plaintiff’s counsel that his client’s reputation was tarnished and that absolute privilege cannot work against fundamental right of a person. It was also contended that there is no statutory right granting absolute privilege to a lawyer.
On the other hand, the counsel appearing on behalf of senior counsel opposed the plaint and sought its rejection by submitting that privilege of a lawyer is absolute and statement given by him in court is an absolute privilege.
Rejecting the plaint, the court said that even if it were assumed that the plaintiff’s contentions are right, there would be no means to ascertain as to what was the exact statement made on behalf of the senior counsel.
“Anyway, as per the law as discussed above, the defendant being a Senior Advocate and having made the statement during the course of judicial proceedings would be protected, the statement being in the nature of absolute privilege. This Court will not go into any exercise as to whether the statement made by the counsel was irrelevant in any manner or was made with any malice,” the court said.
It added that if every statement made by a lawyer during court proceedings was to be subjected to such scrutiny, the system of judiciary would come to a “literal halt” as the lawyers would feel constrained in making their submissions before courts.
This may interfere and hamper the judicial process in a detrimental manner, it said.
The court observed that no malice or motive can be imputed to a senior lawyer for any statement made on instructions from the briefing counsels as per general code of conduct.
“The plaintiff has not been able to make any prima facie case for registering the present plaint and for issuance of summons. In view thereof, it is held that the defamatory statement as alleged by the plaintiff in this suit is not actionable, on the ground of absolute privilege,” it said.
Title: PO v. VP
Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (Del) 140