Written by Nakul Nayak
Today, a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court found criminal defamation as constitutionally valid. Recall that the Supreme Court had reserved judgment in this matter in August last year after extensive hearings. Leaders from across the political divide, including Subramanian Swamy, Arvind Kejriwal, and Rahul Gandhi, filed these petitions challenging sections 499 and 500 of the IPC and section 199 of the CrPC – the provisions that constitute the criminal defamation regime in India.
Note that the judgment is not out yet and a deeper explication will be made after the text is made public, probably in a few hours. Preliminary updates from social media, however, suggest that the Court has justified criminal defamation as a reasonable restriction on free speech. Additionally, the Court has indulged in a balancing act between a “right to reputation” under Article 21 and free speech under Article 19(1)(a). Moreover, as per reports, the Court claims that defamation protects “societal interests” and “constitutional fraternity”. The latter is an especially vague term and deserves to be expounded in detail in the text of the judgment. An interesting aspect of the judgment should be about a reading of the safeguards inherent in section 499 of the IPC that merit a claim that the section is not open to abuse. We await the “thick” judgment.