MJ Akbar-Priya Ramani Defamation Case Verdict on 17 Feb

MJ Akbar’s lawyers provided their final written submissions to the judge one day after deadline, on a Saturday.

Updated
Law
3 min read
MJ Akbar-Priya Ramani Defamation Case
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The verdict in the defamation case brought on against journalist Priya Ramani by former Union Minister MJ Akbar will be announced on 17 February, the Delhi Court which was to pronounce the decision said on Wednesday, 10 February.

Judge Ravindra Kumar Pandey said he needed more time to prepare the judgment, as he had received the written submissions for the case late. When reserving the verdict on 1 February, he had given both parties till 5 February to provide their final written submissions.

Court documents show that Ramani’s lawyers submitted their written arguments on 3 February, while Akbar’s lawyers submitted theirs on 6 February, one day past the deadline – and on the weekend.

MJ Akbar-Priya Ramani Defamation Case Verdict on 17 Feb

The trial has been underway at the Rouse Avenue Court for almost two years, and is closely tied to the legacy of the discourse-altering #MeToo movement.

Akbar claims that an article by Priya Ramani, written for Vogue in 2017 amid the #MeToo movement, and a subsequent tweet about him in 2018 when the movement was sweeping India, caused damage to his “stellar reputation.” Ramani has contested these claims and pleaded truth as her defence.

A person found guilty of criminal defamation can face a maximum punishment of two years’ imprisonment or a fine or both.

What Has MJ Akbar Claimed?

“Akbar’s stellar reputation was tarnished and harmed. He didn’t do anything but the news that called him a sexual predator continued to spread.”   
Geeta Luthra, Senior Advocate, representing MJ Akbar   

Senior Advocate Geeta Luthra, appearing for Akbar, has said that he had a “long and illustrious career” and exhibited documents before the court to prove his “impeccable reputation.” She also included statements made by Akbar’s character witnesses Veenu Sandal, Jyotika Basu, and Tapan Chakki.

Akbar’s legal team has claimed that Ramani’s article is ‘per se’ defamatory as there is no basis for it. This claim is based on an interpretation of Ramani’s Vogue article that views the entire piece as referring to Akbar, not just the beginning – this would undoubtedly be defamatory as the rest of the article includes references to actions of others accused in the #MeToo movement, including Harvey Weinstein.

What Was Priya Ramani’s Defence?

“The imputation is the truth. You cannot look at defamation in isolation and shut your eyes to the rest of the world and pretend nothing is happening. Truth is painful, truth is bitter.”
Rebecca John, Senior Advocate, representing Priya Ramani   

Senior Advocate Rebecca John, appearing for Ramani, through the course of the hearings, pointed out that Ramani had pleaded “truth” as her defence, “made in good faith, in public interest, and for public good.”

“‘Reputation’, ‘good reputation’ and ‘stellar reputation’ is central to their (MJ Akbar’s) case... I have contested all of this is false.”    
Rebecca John, Senior Advocate, representing Priya Ramani   

John was basically arguing that because of the numerous allegations against Akbar, including those made public before Ramani’s tweet on 8 October 2018 and facts known about his extra-marital affairs with junior colleagues long before that, he could not claim to have suffered damage to his reputation because of Ramani’s statements.

Rebecca John also read Akbar’s statements made in the pre-summoning stage as well as during the cross-examination to assert that there were inconsistencies in Akbar’s response to the allegations about the interview in Ramani’s story.

Most importantly, John refuted Akbar’s claims of the entire Vogue article being about him, by pointing out:

  • After the first four paragraphs, the article refers to how that “boss” was part of the “species” of male bosses who preyed on subordinates.
  • Ramani’s contentious tweet from October 2018 (in which she named Akbar) clearly says that she “began” her piece with her Akbar story. “In English language, that does not mean the whole piece,” John explained.

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