Can a company initiate criminal defamation case against a person? The Supreme Court today agreed to examine the issue while seeking a response from the government on it.
“It is an important issue. We can’t just let it go. The issue needs to be examined,” a bench of Justices J S Khehar and Arun Mishra said while issuing notice to the Centre on a plea filed by Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai against whom Mahan Coal Ltd has filed a criminal defamation case for allegedly carrying out negative publicity and protests over purported irregularities in mining activities.
Senior advocate Shyam Diwan appearing for the Greenpeace activist said that companies did have reputation but asked whether they could file criminal defamation.
The bench said “it is a statutory issue and not a constitutional issue” and added that what difference does it have in case of a corporation or a company.
Diwan said that company can have a civil remedy but not criminal recourse.
To this, the bench asked why does it not have legal criminal recourse. “Suppose if anyone one wants to destroy business by destroying reputation, then why can’t (it have) criminal recourse.”
Diwan said that a company has reputation but it does not have right to life.
The bench said the issue needs to be looked into.
BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, who also sought impleadment in the matter, said the recent judgement of the apex court upholding the defamation law did not deal with several issues.
He said that whole dispute was centred around public personalities and the matter should be sent to a five-judge constitution bench.
“You are a parliamentarian. If Parliament feels, it can change law. Why leave the matters for us to take a call,” Justice Khehar said, adding that on next hearing, the court will see whether Swamy’s impleadment plea can be allowed.
Pillai in her petition said “The petitioner is the victim of an abuse of justice and process, by which the respondent through Mahan Coal has used the criminal defamation provision in a strategy against public participation, association, discussion and advocacy.”