DEFAMATORY NEWS REPORT MAY NOT AMOUNT TO CONTEMPT OF COURT, RULES BOMBAY HIGH COURT

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REPORTING of the court proceedings, even if defamatory, may not amount to criminal contempt of the court, the Bombay high court has ruled. “In a given case, even if a particular article may be a defamatory one, yet it may not be an article which may attract the provisions of the Contempt Act,” the High Court said in a ruling a few days back.

Vijay Mallya, a city-based builder, had moved the High Court alleging that a report in a prominent English daily on the pending litigation between him and one Baby Shetty amounted to contempt of the court. The newspaper report was titled “Sr citizen takes on ‘bullying’ builder, Drags Him to Court over Redevpt Deal”.

Shetty lived in an old building in suburban Andheri, which was later purchased by Mallya. She had alleged that Mallya wanted to evict her as he wanted to redevelop the property. The suit regarding her tenancy rights was underway in the city civil court. Mallya’s lawyer alleged that use of the word “bullying” was a defamation, and would affect the reputation of his client.

However, the newspaper’s lawyer argued that in her suit Shetty had averred that she was threatened by Mallya on a few occasions, and hence use of the word “bullying” was correct. Division bench of Justices P B Majmudar and R G Ketkar held that report was indeed based on averments made in the court.

As per the Contempt of Court Act, “fair and accurate” reporting of court proceedings does not amount to contempt, the bench said.

“It is required to be noted that the proceedings under the contempt of court are not to be mixed up with a defamation proceeding. Whether the reputation of a person is lowered by publication of any such article is an altogether different question with which this Court is not required to deal with in these contempt proceedings,” the high court said.

In this case, the reporting does not “prejudice or interfere with” administration of justice, the high court held. The newspaper report had also said that “civil court has accepted that Mallya was not the landlord”. Mallya’s lawyer argued that civil court had not passed any such ruling as the case was still pending. But the newspaper argued that since civil court, which does not have primary jurisdiction to hear tenancy suits, decided to hear this matter, it could be inferred that civil court had held Mallya not to be a landlord.

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