MJ Akbar vs Priya Ramani: New judge urges both sides to consider settlement of defamation case

Ramani had levelled allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment against Akbar, following which he resigned from the Union Council of Ministers and sued her.

A Delhi court Saturday urged former Minister of State for External Affairs MJ Akbar and journalist Priya Ramani to consider settling the criminal defamation case that Akbar has filed against Ramani since the offence was compoundable in nature.

Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate (ACMM) Ravindra Pandey took over the case after his predecessor, ACMM Vishal Pahuja, was transferred by the Delhi High Court along with over a hundred judges on November 18.

ACMM Pandey said this while hearing the matter that is in its last stages of hearing. Both sides have completed their final arguments and senior advocate Geeta Luthra, representing Akbar, was about to complete her rebuttal to the final arguments when Pahuja was transferred.

Ramani had levelled allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment against Akbar, following which he resigned from the Union Council of Ministers and sued her.

In a hearing on Saturday, ACMM Pandey said in Hindi: “The dispute between the two parties is compoundable in nature. You are senior lawyers and have settled disputes over the years. Is there a possibility of a settlement? I don’t know much about the case. I don’t know the level of the dispute. Prima facie, what I understand is that it is compoundable in nature. Both sides should decide, otherwise I will keep this for final arguments.”

Bhavook Chauhan, who appeared on behalf of Ramani, said, “The facts of this case are peculiar. I actually don’t see any possibility of compounding this complaint in particular. I believe that the stakes are high… the accused has said that what all she has said was the truth and in public interest.”

ACMM Pandey then asked Luthra, “Ma’am, is there a possibility for a settlement, from your side?” Luthra said, “I will have to check that with the briefing counsel.”

ACMM Pandey said, “Then I am keeping it for arguments only. But out of 100 per cent, if there is even 0.5 per cent possibility of a settlement, then both the senior lawyers please talk to each other.”

ACMM Pandey told the lawyers from both parties that they “will have to take pain” and that he “will try to complete the final arguments as soon as possible and reserve it for order”.

Luthra told the court that she wanted to start with her final arguments today itself which was allowed by the court, provided it was a brief introductory statement.

Luthra told the court, “She (Ramani) wrote an article in Vogue in which she said a lot of things which are derogatory. One year after this, she said that what she said in that 2017 article were about Mr Akbar. She said this in a tweet and also attached a link to her story in Vogue. My reputation was tarnished because of this and I was defamed.”

ACMM Pandey said, “Sorry to interrupt, is this Vogue some magazine?”. “Yes, Sir. It is a magazine. It was an online article,” Luthra answered, adding that, “There was no due care and caution taken by her (Ramani). There was no research which could be seen (to reflected in the article).”

Luthra told the court about the witnesses of Akbar who have been examined, the documents they relied on and the defence taken by Ramani during the trial.

“She has said that her article has one portion on Mr Akbar and the other portion is general. She has taken this defence for the first time in court… the law says that if you are alleging the truth, then the truth should be whole. The truth must not be in parts. She says that she is a journalist. I say that a journalist has a greater responsibility. They know the rules. They know that for a person, his reputation is more important than his life,” Luthra told the court.


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