Case Analysis

Ram Jethmalani v. Subramaniam Swamy [AIR 2006 Delhi 300, 126 (2006) DLT 535]

By Jasashwee Mishra & Amit Sheoran (Team LL.B Mania)

Defendant Appellant – Subramaniam Swamy

Plaintiff Respondent – Ram Jethmalani

Facts

 While the M.C. Jain Commission of Inquiry reviewed the details and conditions of the Commission of Inquiry Act 1952 involving the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, within which the then chief minister of Tamil Nadu, Jayalalitha’s summon to court was being considered. Defendant (Subramaniam Swamy) alleged that the then Tamil Nadu CM had foreknowledge about the attempt and had a relation with the  Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ellam (LTTE), however, refused to disclose the credibility of the leaks. Plaintiff (Ram Jethmalani) appointed as senior counsel to defend CM. Plaintiff verified the defendant’s allegations and in the same, also reviewed the defendant’s personal remark against Mr. Jethmalani to the effect that he has two wives which was not at all relevant. However, he later apologized for the same remark. On 14.10.1995, when the appellant sent a “Written Concluding Argument ” in which he declined to provide even a source of evidence on the accusation and also claimed that ” Thus according to my information, Mr. Jethmalani has been receiving payments from the LTTE being transferred in his son’s account in CITIBANK in New York”, because that assertion was not for the client but for the lawyer. In the case of such an accusation, the plaintiff brought a suit, charging that the defendant was guilty of vicious and malicious libel for which the plaintiff claimed to have been subjected to appropriate damages. The Plaintiff argued that he established a good reputation in India and abroad, and therefore this form of remark was unduly adverse to the plaintiff’s intimate, political and professional integrity and, for the same reason, brought an action before the High Court of Delhi to compensate for the loss of reputation.

Issues

  1. Whether the remark was necessary, the attack was directly for the counsel and not for the client. Was this act intended to harm the personal reputation and professional integrity?
  2. Was the comment made by the defendant, without an evident source justifiable on any grounds?

Arguments of Parties

  1. The key point put forward by the defendant is that his claim was never made with hostility but was subject to the inalienable right accorded by the Information Commission whilst discharging its mandate to provide evidence.
  2. In order to defeat this point, the plaintiff claimed that total right was not unconditional and, by quoting case 1998 (1) All ER 625, Waple V. Surrey Country Council, it illustrated that privilege wasn’t really open to the defendant because the defendant’s contention was not appropriate or proposed in the required inquiry.
  3. The defendant further maintained that the allegation was not publicized when it was later annulled, but the plaintiff’s counsel concluded that it was not appropriate.
  4. Defendant argued that the statements was made in good faith with no intentions but plaintiff, by pointing to Lord Dunedin’s report of 1917 AC 309, Adam v. Ward, the statement was rather unrelated to the relevant questions raised, because the defendant was a solicitor and such statements did not make any association to the case, so it was sufficient to conclude that this was indeed malice and not good faith.

Judgement

  The rationale being used by judge in delivering the verdict consisted of a few considerations, such as, the defendant’s argument is completely unnecessary and not relevant to the scenario as it posted a remark to the Council which is not related to the subject posed by the Commission’s Facts, and the defendant was also unable to prove the statement.

The key justification to refute the defense and to conclude that it was the real malice, outside the boundaries of privilege and the argument made by the defendant is entirely unconnected. When providing justice, the justification used was that the complainant consisted of good standing in all ways and destroyed his technical, personal or political reputation as well.

Justice Pradeep Nandra jog held that perhaps the claim made by the defendant was prima facie defamatory. It was a case of outpacing the privilege, and it was considered to be evidence of malice on its own. This impaired the plaintiff’s credibility on a massive scale, and such allegations would damage personal and political integrity, since LTTE is prohibited, from organizing and attaching the name to it would lead to a lack of reputation. However, the injury is not retrievable, according to the court, but even the award of Rs 5 lakhs given in favor of the plaintiff and against the defendant, having respect to his legal status and his professional status.

Conclusion

As per the principles of defamation, the remarks made by Subramaniam Swamy were demonstrated defamatory as the accusations made by him on Ram Jethmalani that LLTE deposited funds in Ram Jethmalani’s son a/c, was proved false. Also, it was aphoristic that the remarks were made against Ram Jethmalani. And, thirdly, it was identified that the statements were released as Subramaniam Swamy read the defamatory remarks in the proceedings even after they’ve been annulled by the authorities of the Jain Commission of Inquiry.

Analysis

A good name is worth more than good riches.[1]

In a country like India, where the society is typical and judgmental at every instance, a defamation as such, without an evidence questions the integrity of the person in all spheres of his life. In this case, where the counsel was alleged of being involved with a banned organization, it didn’t only harm the professional reputation, but also questioned his social credibility and status. The claim was such, without an evidence, that it itself showed the intentions of malice and defamation from the very onset of remark. Due to insufficient evidences, the plaintiff won the case, but was subjected to the grave injury of his reputation. This Unfortunately, in India, Law of Damages and in particular in relation to defamation has not being developed at the same pace as it has developed in the European countries and the United States of America. Punitive damages in defamation are not awarded in India. Damages awarded are a recompense to the loss of honor and reputation.


[1] Shakespeare’s Othello, Act-II, Scene III, pp.167

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