"Vested interests could not impinge on freedom of expression"

In a big relief to actor Kushboo, the Supreme Court on Wednesday set aside a Madras High Court judgment directing the chief metropolitan magistrate, Egmore, to conduct a joint trial of the 23 defamation complaints filed in various places in Tamil Nadu for her alleged remarks on pre-marital sex.

A Bench of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and Justices Deepak Verma and B.S. Chauhan allowed Ms. Kushboo's appeal against the April 30, 2008 judgment. The judgment had ordered consolidation of all cases for a joint trial and disposal of the complaints filed by Ms. Kanniammal and others in six months.

Ms. Kushboo said that in a survey conducted by India Today in September 2005 on ‘pre-marital sex,' she expressed her views on the need for teaching the younger generation sexology either in educational institutions or by parents.

However, she said, certain groups having political affiliation, in view of a by-election in October/November 2005, started a vilification campaign against her solely for achieving political mileage and publicity. Objecting to her statement in the magazine, 23 complaints were filed against her under Sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code (criminal defamation) in various places to harass and victimise her.

Ms. Kushboo argued that the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression could not be impinged upon by vested interests which had unleashed a campaign of systematic complaints.

The Supreme Court accepted her contentions and quashed the criminal proceedings pending against her.

It had stayed these proceedings in May 2008.