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Supreme Court of India

Subramanian Swamy v. Union of India 13 May 2016

In 2014, Dr. Subramanium Swamy made corruption allegations against Ms. Jayalathitha, the then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister. In response, Tamil Nadu State Government filed defamation cases against Dr. Swamy. Dr. Swamy, joined by prominent politicians such as Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal, filed a writ petition challenging the constitutionality of the Criminal Defamation law in India, i.e., Sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). A two-judge bench of the Supreme Court comprising of Justices Dipak Misra and P.C. Pant decided the matter.

Section 499 IPC defines defamation. Section 500 IPC prescribes the punishment for defamation.

The challenge before the court was twofold – first, whether criminalising defamation is an excessive restriction on freedom of speech, and second, whether the criminal defamation law under Sections 499 and 500 is vaguely phrased and hence arbitrary.

The court has held that Section 499 is not an excessive restriction under Article 19(2). The society is a collection of individuals, and what affects individuals also affects the society as a whole. Hence, it is valid to treat defamation as a public wrong.

Further, criminal defamation is not a disproportionate restriction on free speech, because the protection of reputation is a fundamental right as well as a human right. The Court relied on judgments from the UK, USA, Canada, etc. and reaffirmed the right to reputation as a part of the Article 21 right to life.

Using the principle of ‘balancing of fundamental rights’, the court held that the right to freedom and speech and expression cannot be “allowed so much room that even reputation of an individual which is a constituent of Article 21 would have no entry into that area”. Criminal defamation laws safeguard the constitutional values of human dignity flowing from the Preamble and the Fundamental Duties.

The court rejected the argument that the sections are vaguely worded and ambiguous. Using the Constituent Assembly Debates to understand what the framers of the Constitution meant by the word “defamation” in Article 19(2), the court held that the word has its own independent identity. It stands alone and defamation laws have to be understood as they were when the Constitution came into force.

In the case of Subramaniam Swamy v. Union of India- it was held that the right to honor, dignity and reputation are the basic constituents of the right to life under Article 21. It further categorically observed that “the reputation of one cannot be allowed to be crucified at the altar of the other’s right to free speech and that the balance of the two rights needs to be struck.” Right to reputation was considered to be an inherent component of Article 21 of the Constitution of India.

Supreme Court of India

Gambhirsinh R.Dekare vs Falgunbhai Chimanbhai Patel & Anr on 11 March, 2013

A news item has the potentiality of bringing doom’s day for an individual. The Editor controls the selection of the matter that is published. Therefore, he has to keep a careful eye on the selection. Blue- penciling of news articles by any one other than the Editor is not welcome in a democratic polity. Editors have to take responsibility of everything they publish and to maintain the integrity of published record. It is apt to remind ourselves the answer of the Editor of the Scotsman, a Scottish newspaper. When asked what it was like to run a national newspaper, the Editor answered “run a newspaper! I run a country”. It may be an exaggeration but it does reflect the well known fact that it can cause far reaching consequences in an individual and country’s life.


In England the rule appears to be well settled that except in certain well defined matters. the husband and wife ,are regarded as one and in an action for libel disclosure by the husband of the libel to his wife is not publication. In Wennhak's case(1) Manisty, J., observed:

" ...... the maxim and principle acted on for centuries is still in existence viz., that as regards this Case, husband and wife 'are in point of law one person." The learned Judge examined the foundation of the rule and stated that it was, after, all, a question of public policy or, social policy.