CHENNAI: The Madras High Court has set aside a decision of the Bar Council of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry to refuse enrolment of a law graduate as lawyer as he faced criminal defamation proceedings.
A Division Bench of justices V Ramasubramanian and K Ravichandrabaabu passed the orders on a writ petition moved by a freelance journalist M Nedunchezhian.
Nedunchezhian alleged that his application to be enrolled as an advocate was rejected by the Bar Council of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry as a private complaint lodged by a chit fund company for criminal defamation was pending against him.
When the petition came up for hearing, the Bench said, “The trend all over the world appears to be towards decriminalisation of defamation. The SC is also seized of the issue. In such circumstances, it is not possible for us to convince ourselves that filing of a private complaint of defamation against a person for writing articles in a magazine could make him a person with criminal background. In September 2014, the Law Commission of India published a joint consultation paper on Media Law, in which it considered the need to repeal Section 499 (defamation) of the IPC on the ground that it violated international norms. It also indicated that the penalty of incarceration up to two years was clearly disproportionate,” they added.
Strongly recommending codification of civil defamation, the Bench said, “If it is retained as a criminal offence, the law should not use imprisonment as a punishment for those convicted of defamation, in line with international standards on freedom of expression.”