Supreme Court upholds criminalizing of defamation

By Vivek Vashi and Shaheda Madraswala, Bharucha & Partners
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The Supreme Court in its recent judgment in Subramanian Swamy v Union of India, Ministry of Law & Ors, considered the constitutional validity of the archaic sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC).

Vivek Vashi
Vivek Vashi

The petitions, filed by leaders such as Swamy of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, sought to decriminalize defamation and strike down sections 499 and 500 on the grounds that they are “outmoded” and contrary to the right to freedom of speech and expression, enshrined in article 19 of the constitution of India. Moreover, the petitioners contended that having a criminal penalty for a wrong that can be dealt with satisfactorily by civil law is a disproportionate restriction on free speech.

Article 19(1)(a) of the constitution guarantees all Indian citizens the right to freedom of speech and expression. Article 19(2) allows the state to make laws which impose reasonable restrictions on this right in the interests of, among others, the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state and public order, decency or morality, and defamation.

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Vivek Vashi is the mainstay of the litigation team at Bharucha & Partners, where Shaheda Madraswala is an associate.

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