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Rahul Gandhi Defamation Case Hearing Today in SC: What Can The Top Court Do?

What are the options before the top court in this case & how can they impact his political future?

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On Friday, 4 August, the Supreme Court is slated to hear a petition filed by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi against a Gujarat High Court order which had refused to stay his conviction in a criminal defamation case.

The case pertains to a remark made by Gandhi at an election rally in 2019 and his subsequent conviction over it by a Magistrate court in Gujarat on 23 March this year.

As an apex court bench led by Justice BR Gavai gets ready to hear the case, the questions that linger are:

What are the probable directions in which the top court ruling can go? What are indeed the options before the top court in this case and how can they impact Gandhi’s political future?

We decode.

Rahul Gandhi Defamation Case Hearing Today in SC: What Can The Top Court Do?

  1. 1. From The Magistrate Court To SC: How The Case Traveled

    What are the options before the top court in this case & how can they impact his political future?

    What has followed since the purported remark made by Gandhi, while speaking at a public event in Kolar, Karnataka, is what the current saga is about: several criminal defamation cases against him, one of which (filed by BJP leader Purnesh Modi) led to his conviction by the Magistrate court, a two-year-sentence and his consequent disqualification from the Lok Sabha in March 2023.

    After the Magistrate court convicted Gandhi, the Congress leader appealed the decision in the Gujarat Sessions Court and simultaneously filed an application for a stay of his conviction. While the Sessions court rejected the plea for stay in April, it did grant him bail till the final disposal of the appeal.

    Gandhi then moved the High Court against the Sessions Court order refusing to stay his conviction, which too refused.

    "(Gandhi) is seeking a stay of conviction on absolutely non-existent grounds. Stay on conviction is not a rule. As many as 10 cases are pending against (Gandhi). It is needed to have purity in politics," Justice Prachchhak said, while pronouncing the order on 7 July.

    The High Court further said that Gandhi would not face any injustice if the conviction were not stayed.  When the Gujarat High Court refused relief, Gandhi approached the Supreme Court.

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  2. 2. So, What Can The Supreme Court Do?

    “The primary question before the Supreme Court is whether they will agree with the Gujarat High Court order refusing a stay on his conviction or take a different view,” Advocate-on-Record at the Supreme Court, Paras Nath Singh told The Quint.

    “It is important to remember that the issue before the top court currently is limited: it is about a stay on conviction and without getting into the merits of the case,” Singh added.

    While first hearing the case, on 21 July, the two-judge bench of Justices BR Gavai and PK Mishra, issued notice on Gandhi’s plea.

    Although Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing Gandhi, requested the court for interim relief till the next hearing, the top court expressed reluctance. It said that it could not grant interim relief without first hearing the other side.

    Given this, the top court can do one of the following according to Singh:

    1) Stay his conviction, allow him to go back to parliament, and let his case be decided on merits in trial

    2) Not stay his conviction, in which case the case still goes to trial but he doesn’t get back his seat in parliament either

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  3. 3. How Does This Impact His Political Career?

    If the top court does grant a stay on his conviction, as mentioned above, Gandhi can get his seat back in the parliament. The most recent example to be considered here is Lakshadweep MP Mohammed Faizal’s case.

    Earlier this year, Faizal had challenged the Lok Sabha Secretariat’s “unlawful action” in failing to withdraw its disqualification notice, more than two months after the Kerala High Court stayed the MP’s conviction and 10-year sentence in an attempt-to-murder case.

    However, ahead of the Supreme court hearing, the Lok Sabha secretariat gave him his seat back.

    “This is an excellent precedent and makes all the more sense why Gandhi should get back his seat if his conviction is stayed. If not, then he has a legal remedy to challenge it in top court like Faizal did,” Advocate Singh said.

    “And if the top court refuses to stay the conviction, then he stays out of parliament and the case goes back to the sessions court and will be decided on merits i.e. if defamation offence is actually made out or not,” he added.

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  4. 4. Can Gandhi Get Arrested If SC Refuses To Stay His Conviction?

    Not at this point.

    When the magistrate court found him guilty of criminal defamation, Gandhi appealed the decision at a Gujarat Sessions Court. Along with that, he filed an application to stay his conviction – which is what the current case before the top court is about.

    While the Sessions Court refused to stay his conviction, they did grant him bail and suspended his two-year sentence till the final disposal of his appeal.

    “He was granted bail by the court. The sentencing was also stayed," a lawyer involved in the case told The Hindu.

    "So, even if the Supreme Court refuses to stay his conviction at this point, he is protected from getting arrested in this case until a decision comes on his appeal against the Magistrate Court's decision," Advocate Singh said.

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

From The Magistrate Court To SC: How The Case Traveled

What are the options before the top court in this case & how can they impact his political future?

What has followed since the purported remark made by Gandhi, while speaking at a public event in Kolar, Karnataka, is what the current saga is about: several criminal defamation cases against him, one of which (filed by BJP leader Purnesh Modi) led to his conviction by the Magistrate court, a two-year-sentence and his consequent disqualification from the Lok Sabha in March 2023.

After the Magistrate court convicted Gandhi, the Congress leader appealed the decision in the Gujarat Sessions Court and simultaneously filed an application for a stay of his conviction. While the Sessions court rejected the plea for stay in April, it did grant him bail till the final disposal of the appeal.

Gandhi then moved the High Court against the Sessions Court order refusing to stay his conviction, which too refused.

"(Gandhi) is seeking a stay of conviction on absolutely non-existent grounds. Stay on conviction is not a rule. As many as 10 cases are pending against (Gandhi). It is needed to have purity in politics," Justice Prachchhak said, while pronouncing the order on 7 July.

The High Court further said that Gandhi would not face any injustice if the conviction were not stayed.  When the Gujarat High Court refused relief, Gandhi approached the Supreme Court.

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So, What Can The Supreme Court Do?

“The primary question before the Supreme Court is whether they will agree with the Gujarat High Court order refusing a stay on his conviction or take a different view,” Advocate-on-Record at the Supreme Court, Paras Nath Singh told The Quint.

“It is important to remember that the issue before the top court currently is limited: it is about a stay on conviction and without getting into the merits of the case,” Singh added.

While first hearing the case, on 21 July, the two-judge bench of Justices BR Gavai and PK Mishra, issued notice on Gandhi’s plea.

Although Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing Gandhi, requested the court for interim relief till the next hearing, the top court expressed reluctance. It said that it could not grant interim relief without first hearing the other side.

Given this, the top court can do one of the following according to Singh:

1) Stay his conviction, allow him to go back to parliament, and let his case be decided on merits in trial

2) Not stay his conviction, in which case the case still goes to trial but he doesn’t get back his seat in parliament either

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How Does This Impact His Political Career?

If the top court does grant a stay on his conviction, as mentioned above, Gandhi can get his seat back in the parliament. The most recent example to be considered here is Lakshadweep MP Mohammed Faizal’s case.

Earlier this year, Faizal had challenged the Lok Sabha Secretariat’s “unlawful action” in failing to withdraw its disqualification notice, more than two months after the Kerala High Court stayed the MP’s conviction and 10-year sentence in an attempt-to-murder case.

However, ahead of the Supreme court hearing, the Lok Sabha secretariat gave him his seat back.

“This is an excellent precedent and makes all the more sense why Gandhi should get back his seat if his conviction is stayed. If not, then he has a legal remedy to challenge it in top court like Faizal did,” Advocate Singh said.

“And if the top court refuses to stay the conviction, then he stays out of parliament and the case goes back to the sessions court and will be decided on merits i.e. if defamation offence is actually made out or not,” he added.

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Can Gandhi Get Arrested If SC Refuses To Stay His Conviction?

Not at this point.

When the magistrate court found him guilty of criminal defamation, Gandhi appealed the decision at a Gujarat Sessions Court. Along with that, he filed an application to stay his conviction – which is what the current case before the top court is about.

While the Sessions Court refused to stay his conviction, they did grant him bail and suspended his two-year sentence till the final disposal of his appeal.

“He was granted bail by the court. The sentencing was also stayed," a lawyer involved in the case told The Hindu.

"So, even if the Supreme Court refuses to stay his conviction at this point, he is protected from getting arrested in this case until a decision comes on his appeal against the Magistrate Court's decision," Advocate Singh said.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Rahul Gandhi 

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