Delhi HC grants temporary relief to J. Swatanter Kumar; Restraint on publishing details of allegations, use of J. Kumar's photograph
The Delhi High Court granted interim relief to Justice Swatanter Kumar in the defamation suit filed by J Kumar (Petitioner) against media houses seeking to restrain them from publishing news pertaining to the law intern’s allegation of sexual harassment (except judicial orders) and claiming damages to the extent of Rs. 5 crore.
Justice Manmohan Singh, in an interim order running to 42 pages, has restrained the media from publishing or airing content on the intern harassment case till the next date of hearing to be held on February 24, 2013. The Court has also directed the media to not use J. Kumar's picture in any of the news articles published in connection with this case. The restrictions on reporting however, do not apply to court proceedings related to the allegations.
Justice Kumar, who has been accused of sexually harassing a law intern, had filed the suit against Indian Express, CNN IBN, Times Now and the law intern (Respondents) alleging that the manner in which the Respondents had reported the news pertaining to the intern's affidavit was deliberate and with the intent to “defame the plaintiff and the institutions dispensing justice”. The plaint has also impleaded the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
He has also claimed that the Respondent media houses proceeded to reveal his name as the accused in the matter despite him categorically informing them that the allegations against him were false and publication of his name would cause irreparable damage to his reputation. The retired judge also claimed that the allegations were, "baseless, fraudulent and motivated in their entirety".
In his plaint, settled by Senior Advocate Maninder Singh and re-settled by Senior Advocates Rajiv Nayar, AS Chandhiok and Mukul Rohatgi, Justice Kumar states,
“The reckless and irresponsible action of the Defendants 1 to 4 seeking to increase their circulation and TRPs at the cost of the reputation of the Plaintiff and his public office have caused grave and irreparable injury to the Plaintiff and degraded the dignity of the Institution of Justice....Defendant no. 5 caused the publication of her false complaint to the media both print as well as electronic. The said acts of Defendants no. 1 to 5 lowered the esteem of the Plaintiff in the estimation of the public at large and his colleagues, staff, peers and members of his social circle.”
During the hearing yesterday afternoon in a packed courtroom no. 21, Senior Counsel Mukul Rohatgi appearing for Justice Kumar, had taken strong objection to the manner in which the Respondents had reported news pertaining to the intern’s affidavit. Waving around copies of Indian Express and Mail Today, he had protested against newspapers lifting “juicy lines from the affidavit” and making front page headlines out of it terming it as yellow journalism.
He had also objected to the Respondent TV Channels airing debates and discussions centred on the contents of the affidavit and passing judgments on the character of the judge. He had further submitted that the said acts of the Respondents had not only impacted the reputation of the Petitioner but also besmirched the integrity of the Supreme Court and the entire judiciary.
The Court after hearing the Petitioner and the Respondents had reserved its order yesterday. Nine Senior Counsels inlcuding Mukul Rohatgi, AS Chandhiok, Rajiv Nayar, Neeraj Kishan Kaul, Vinay Bhasin, Maninder Singh and Aman Lekhi represented the Petitioner. Senior Counsels Ashwani Mata and Dinesh Dwivedi appeared for the Respondents.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court had issued notice to Justice Kumar yesterday in the Public Interest Litigation filed by the law intern seeking, amongst other things, the establishment of a permanent mechanism to address complaints of sexual harassment against sitting and retired judicial officers.
Full text of the order is available below.