CHENNAI: Observing that the trend all over the world appears to be towards decriminalisation of defamation, the Madras High Court has directed the Bar Council of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry to enrol a freelance journalist, facing a defamation case, as an advocate.
A division bench, comprising Justice V.Ramasubramanian and Justice K Ravichandra Baabu, passed the order while setting aside an order of the Bar Council refusing to enrol M Nedunchezhian, a freelance reporter for a monthly Tamil investigative magazine, in view of pendency of the case.
It noted that the Supreme Court was also seized of the issue (of defamation).
In such circumstances, it was not possible for the court to convince itself that the filing of a complaint of defamation against a person for writing articles in a magazine could make the Bar Council treat him as a person with criminal background so as to disentitle him from enrolling as an advocate, it said.
A Non-banking financial company had filed the defamation complaint against Nedunchezian for his article critical of it in 2007 and the matter was taken on the file of Judicial Magistrate I, Thanjavur, for alleged offences under IPC sections 499, 500 and 501 (relating to defamation).
During the pendency of the case, the petitioner graduated in law from a college affiliated to Bangalore University and applied to the Bar Council seeking enrolment in June 2013.
He had mentioned about pendency of the defamation case, citing which the Council declined to process his application.
Justice Ramasubramanian, who wrote the judgment for the bench, in the order narrated various judgments of European Courts of Human Rights, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and France on defamation.
He listed countries such as Jamaica, Colorado, Grenada and some states of Mexico which had removed libel from their criminal law books entirely, pursuant to the ongoing effort to scrap criminal defamation laws.
"Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago has approved a bill to partially decriminalise defamation. Out of the members of the European Union, Cyprus, Romania, Estonia, Ireland and the United Kingdom have repealed criminal defamation laws," the order said.