The apex court, which observed that “nothing specific” has been attributed to Purie in the allegations made in the complaint, also allowed the appeals filed by three public servants against the April 2021 judgement of the Delhi High Court.
The HC had dismissed their pleas seeking quashing of the summoning order passed by a magisterial court.
A bench comprising Chief Justice U U Lalit and Justice Bela M Trivedi, however, rejected the appeal by the journalist who had authored the alleged defamatory article.
“In light of these principles, if we consider the assertions and allegations made in the complaint, we find that nothing specific has been attributed to A-1 (Purie), Editor-in-Chief.
“He cannot, therefore, be held liable for the acts committed by the author of the article, namely, A-2. The allegations made in the complaint completely fall short of making out any case against A-1,” the bench said in its 17-page judgement.
The defamation complaint was filed over a news article ‘Mission Misconduct’ published in the magazine in April 2007 and it reported allegations against an Indian Mission official then posted in Edinburgh.
The news article had referred to some allegations against an Indian official allegedly seeking some favours and financial irregularities.
In its verdict, the apex court said that with regard to the role ascribed to the author of the article, “it must be stated at this stage that as an author of the article his case stands on a different footing”.
“Whether what he did was an act which was justified or not would be a question of fact to be gone into only at the stage of the trial,” it said.
The bench said insofar as the public servants are concerned, “they are not primarily responsible for the article and their responsibility, if at all, is only to the extent that they either reported something touching upon the complaint made by A-12 or in their capacity as public servants, reported something to their seniors”.
Referring to a previous judgement delivered by the apex court, the bench said going by the law laid down by the top court, their (public servants’) actions are completely protected.
“In the circumstances, we accept the appeals insofar as A-1 and the public servants (A-3, A-4 and A-8) are concerned and set aside the summoning order, as well as, quash complaint… lodged against them. We, however, reject the appeal preferred by A-2,” the apex court said.
A trial court here had in April 2013 found sufficient material to proceed against six persons for the alleged commission of offences punishable under some sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), including section 500 (punishment for defamation).
Aggrieved by the summoning order, Purie as well as the author of the article and some public servants had approached the high court seeking quashing of the summoning order as well as the complaint filed against them.
The high court had dismissed these petitions.
In its verdict, the top court noted the question “whether the benefit of any of the exceptions to section 499 of the IPC can be availed of and on the strength of such exceptions, the proceedings can be quashed at the stage when an application moved under section 482 of the Code is considered?”
Section 499 of the IPC pertains to defamation, while section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure deals with inherent powers of the high court.
“It is thus clear that in a given case, if the facts so justify, the benefit of an exception to section 499 of the IPC has been extended and it is not taken to be a rigid principle that the benefit of the exception can only be afforded at the stage of the trial,” said the bench, which referred to some previous judgements delivered by the apex court. PTI ABA RT