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Seniors galore as Swamy gets day in SC challenging criminal defamation laws & Jaya complaint

The Supreme Court yesterday began hearing former Bharatiya Janata Dal (BJP) party president Subramanian Swamy’s challenge of India’s criminal defamation laws in the Supreme Court yesterday, reported//Outlook and others.

Swamy, for whom senior advocates GS Mani and Sushil Kumar Jain appeared in court, has challenged the constitutionality of Sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code, which define the punishable offence of “defamation”.

Swamy in Tamil Nadu in September 2014 had a criminal complaint issued against him under the two provisions after a complaint by J Jayalalithaa, which was in October suspended by the Supreme Court pursuant to Swamy’s petition.

Swamy asserted in his writ petition that the the provisions travel beyond the restrictions contained in Article 19(2) of the Constitution.

A bench of justices Dipak Misra and PC Pant while hearing the matter today appointed senior advocates K Parasaran and TR Andhyarujina as amicus curiae, or friends of the court, to assist the court in deciding Swamy’s writ petition.

Additional solicitor general PS Narsimha and senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi were appearing for the Tamil Nadu government, while senior advocates V Shekhar and V Giri were appearing for some of the original complainants.

SpicyIP blogger Aparajita Lath, who had also received legal notices under the two defamation provisions, had in a post which was tweeted by Swamy after he got arrested, argued that when a civil remedy for defamation already exists, criminalising defamation was akin to putting an arbitrary and excessive restriction on the freedom of speech.

Spicy IP reported:

Mr. Andhyarujina, the amicus curiae, prima facie suggested that given the development of free speech in recent times, reference to the provisional parliamentary debates may not be relevant.

Mr. K Parasaran, also an amicus curiae, suggested that the words “Nothing in sub clause (a) of clause (1) shall affect the operation of any existing law” stood separately from the rest of the clause thereby “saving” Sections 499 and 500. He also argued that “reputation” is the greatest treasure of man and freedom of speech has to be controlled.

On 25 March the Supreme Court struck off Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, which put unconstitutional restrictions on the freedom of online speech.

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