New Delhi: The Supreme Court will examine whether Indian Penal Code (IPC)'s section 499 relating to defamation and section 500 providing for punishment for defamation travelled beyond the constitutional provision imposing reasonable restriction on the freedom of speech and expression.
A bench of Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Prafulla C. Pant on Tuesday decided to examine whether sections 499 and 500 went beyond the reasonable restrictions imposed under article 19(2) of the constitution as number of senior lawyers expressed differing views on it.
The issue surfaced in the course of the hearing of a petition by Bharatiya Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy who has challenged the constitutional validity of sections 499 and 500 and section 199(2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure which were taken recourse to by Tamil Nadu government in slapping defamation cases against him for making comments critical of the then chief minister J. Jayalalithaa.
The apex court on October 30, 2014, had suspended defamation proceedings in five cases initiated by the Tamil Nadu government against Swamy.
The court on Tuesday asked senior counsel K. Parasaran, and T.R. Andhyarujina to assist it in determining the issue. Andhyarujina would be assisted by counsel Jesal Wahi.
Andhyarujina said that there has to be a debate "with regard to the conceptual meaning of the term 'defamation' used in article 19(2) of the constitution and the definition of 'defamation' in Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code."
Parasaran, on the other hand, said that the sections 499 and 500 being the existing law, are saved by the first part of the article 19(2) that says "nothing in sub-clause (a) of clause (1) shall affect the operation of any existing law".
He contended that the freedom of speech and expression possibly has to be controlled one not to include the concept of defamation as defined under section 499.
Deciding to examine the issue, the court gave four weeks time to the respondents including the Tamil Nadu government to file their response and gave another four weeks to petitioners to file their rejoinders.