NEW DELHI: ‘To hold a person guilty of an offence, without the same being tested in the crucible of trial, is against the rule of law’ said senior advocate Geeta Luthra, while commenting on the recent judgment of a Delhi court acquitting journalist Priya Ramani in the criminal defamation case filed by former Union Minister MJ Akbar.
“A woman has a right to put forth her grievance however, the same has to be before the appropriate/proper forum. There has been no complaint against Akbar till date despite the existence of an established legal redressal mechanism,” Luthra told ANI, who represented Akbar in the closely watched legal battle arising out of the #MeToo movement.
On Wednesday, the Delhi Court rejected Akbar’s criminal defamation suit against Ramani noting that, “The woman has a right to put her grievance at any platform of her choice and even after decades”.
The court additionally accepted Ramani’s contention that Akbar “is not a man of stellar reputation” on the basis of her testimony and that of senior journalist Ghazala Wahab, who also testified against Akbar for sexual harassment.
Senior advocate Luthra, however, contended that her client’s case was of criminal defamation and not one of sexual harassment.
“Even the Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act, 2013 provides a limit of three months of making a complaint and at the very most a limitation of six months,” she said.
“Resorting to social media to put forth such grievances and to hold a person guilty of an offence, without the same being tested in the crucible of trial, is against the rule of law. In such a situation, the aggrieved only has the remedy to approach the court under civil/criminal defamation,” she added.
“The reputation of a person is built by a lifetime of hard work and dedication, step by step, brick by brick. The reputation of a person has been held by the courts to be dearer to him/her than their life itself,” the senior advocate said citing judgments of the Supreme Court.
She said that the court has held that the contents of the tweet dated October 8, 2018 and Vogue article dated October 12, 2017, read together, are defamatory in nature and once the ingredients of defamation stand established, the finding that Akbar did not have a stellar reputation is untenable.
“A witness who has not deposed to the effect that Akbar did not have a stellar reputation cannot be said to have established the same. If any inference has to be drawn from the evidence, the witness has to be questioned on the said line,” the senior advocate said.
“I am not here to criticize the judgment. I am here to say that to a large extent Akbar’s stand is vindicated. The defamation has been held to be established,” the senior advocate added.
MJ Akbar, the former Minister of State for External Affairs, had filed a defamation case against the journalist Priya Ramani for accusing him of sexual misconduct.
Ramani was the first woman to accuse Akbar of sexual harassment during the #MeToo campaign. The allegations levelled against him forced him to resign from the Union Cabinet on October 17, 2018.