Online defamation cannot be countered by civil remedies, Centre tells Supreme Court

Centre backs retention of criminal defamation

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Online defamation cannot be countered by civil remedies, Centre tells Supreme Court


The criminal laws are society-centric and state has compelling interest to protect the right to life with dignity of an individual for which the criminal defamation law needs to be retained, the Centre told the Supreme Court while seeking to dismiss a batch of pleas seeking to repeal the law.

"It is trite law that the right to reputation is an important facet of right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution...," the Narendra Modi government said through an affidavit filed in response to a batch of pleas.
It also argued that criminal laws are "society-centric" and merely because some countries have done away with some laws does not mean Parliament is not empowered to legislate the same.

"The reasonable restrictions cannot be tested by divorcing the socio-cultural context and merely comparing with the situation in other countries…," the affidavit filed by a Joint Secretary of Home Ministry said.

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and BJP leader Subramanian Swamy approached the apex court to repeal the criminal defamation law, contending it as arbitrary and most of the countries have abolished the same.

They favoured the civil defamation law in the place of criminal one.

These political leaders have been facing defamation cases in various places for their speeches under section 499 and 500 of the IPC.

The Home Ministry countered the petitioners' arguments and denied to declare the law (sections 499 and 500 of IPC) as unconstitutional saying "these sections will have to be tested independently and on unconstitutional principles."

"Civil remedy for defamation is not efficacious remedy per se. The civil remedies on an average take longer than criminal remedies. Furthermore, with the advent of new forms of technology, acts like online defamation cannot be adequately countered by means of civil remedies."

The government, which urged the court to refer the matter to a larger bench as the question of law and constitutional issue is involved in it, also raised concern over the defamation contents over the internet and social media and said with the advent of new forms of technology like online defamation the civil defamation is not adequate.

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