Akbar’s defamation case against Ramani: Trial vitiated if found that ACMM has no jurisdiction, says Delhi Court

A Delhi court Wednesday said if it is found that the magisterial court trying the criminal defamation case filed by former union minister M.J. Akbar against journalist Priya Ramani for two years did not have the jurisdiction, the entire trial, and not just the final argument, gets vitiated .

The observation came from the court which will pass an order on October 22 on whether to transfer a criminal defamation complaint from the court of Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate (ACMM) to another judge.

An ACMM trying the case had on Tuesday sent the matter to Principal District and Sessions Judge seeking transfer of the matter to another court on the ground that his court was designated to hear cases filed against lawmakers.

Principal District and Sessions Judge Sujata Kohli, who reserved the order, noted that the notification does not bar the Magistrate concerned from hearing matters other than those against MPs and MLAs.

However, the object behind the notification is that the cases against the lawmakers be decided expeditiously, the judge said.

She, however, pointed out that in case it is found that the magisterial court trying the matter did not have the jurisdiction, the entire trial, and not just the final argument, gets vitiated .

None of the counsel raised this point earlier. If we go behind the issue that the court has no jurisdiction, not just the final argument but the entire proceeding gets vitiated, the judge said.

During the arguments, senior advocate Geeta Luthra, appearing for Mr. Akbar, said that almost entire trial was over and only a few dates were remaining.

Great prejudiced would be caused if the matter the further delayed, the counsel said.

The counsel appearing for Ms. Ramani, however, said that the accused had no objection to any order passed by the court.

While starting the argument Luthra told the court that a “joint request” was being made that the matter be sent back to the same trial court that has been hearing the case for over two years now.

We are making a joint request that the matter be sent back to Judge Pahuja… Two years back, the case was marked to his court. Both of us argued in detail. There is no point in re-arguing the final argument, Luthra said.

Ms. Ramani’s counsel, Bhavook Chauhan, however, said that though it was supposed to be a joint statement, he had gone through the notification regarding the trial court’s jurisdiction and would leave it to the wisdom of the District Judge to decide.

ACMM Vishal Pahuja, who had started the final arguments in the case on February 7 this year, sent the matter to district and sessions judge, saying the case in hand was not filed against MP or MLA and needs to be transferred to the “Competent Court of Jurisdiction“.

Pahuja said his court (court of ACMM) was designated to try the cases filed against the lawmakers by a circular passed on February 23, 2018 and since this case was not filed against MP/MLA , he was marking the matter to Principal District and Sessions Judge to consider re-assigning the case to another Metropolitan Magistrate.

Mr. Akbar had filed the criminal defamation complaint against Ms. Ramani in March 2018.

In the wake of #MeToo movement, Ms. Ramani in 2018 accused Mr. Akbar of sexual misconduct around 20 years ago when he was a journalist.

Mr. Akbar resigned as Union minister on October 17, 2018.

Ms. Ramani had earlier told the court that she was targeted selectively through a criminal defamation complaint by Mr. Akbar, to halt the avalanche of allegations of sexual misconduct that came out against him in the wake of #MeToo movement in 2008.

Mr. Akbar had said that Ms. Ramani defamed him by calling him with adjectives such as ‘media’s biggest predator’ that harmed his reputation.

He has denied all the allegations of sexual harassment against the women who came forward during #MeToo campaign against him.

Mr. Akbar had earlier told the court that the allegations made in an article in the ‘Vogue’ and the subsequent tweets were defamatory on the face of it as the complainant had deposed them to be false and imaginary and that an immediate damage was caused to him due to the false allegations by Ms. Ramani.

Ms. Ramani had earlier told the court that her disclosure of alleged sexual harassment by Mr. Akbar has come at a great personal cost and she had nothing to gain from it.

She had said her move would empower women to speak up and make them understand their rights at workplace.

Several women came up with accounts of the alleged sexual harassment by M.J. Akbar him while they were working as journalists under him.

He has termed the allegations false, fabricated and deeply distressing and said he was taking appropriate legal action against them.

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