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Defamation, a crime against society: Court

The Supreme Court, which upheld the criminal defamation law on Friday, held that deliberate injury to the reputation of an individual is not a mere private wrong worth only a civil case for damages. Instead, it is a “crime” committed against society at large and the state has a duty to redress the hurt caused to its citizen’s dignity.

“Nobody has a right to denigrate others’ right to person or reputation,” the Bench of Justices Dipak Misra and P.C. Pant said.

Thus, Sections 499 and 500 of Lord Macaulay’s Indian Penal Code of 1860, which prescribes two years’ imprisonment for a person found guilty of defamation won the court’s approbation. It said though free speech is a “highly valued and cherished right”, imprisonment is a proportionate punishment for defamatory remarks.

“Interest of the people involved in the acts of expression should be looked at not only from the perspective of the speaker but also the place at which he speaks, the scenario, the audience, the reaction of the publication, the purpose of the speech and the forum in which the citizen exercises his freedom of speech and expression,” Justice Misra reasoned.

The petitioners facing criminal defamation trial have been given eight weeks to approach the High Courts concerned under Article 226 and Section 482 of the Cr.PC to quash the proceedings against them. For this purpose, the apex court has stayed the criminal proceedings against them till then.

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