Former Supreme Court judge Swatanter Kumar Wednesday filed a defamation case in the Delhi High Court against a law intern who has accused him of sexual harassment and demanded damages from a section of the media which reported the allegation.
Justice Manmohan Singh reserved the order for Thursday morning after hearing the parties. “Till then you (media) can publish court’s order and proceedings,” he said.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Justice Kumar, also sought an order restraining the media from reporting the case, except “fair reporting of court orders”.
Kumar, who is chairman of the National Green Tribunal, sought damages of Rs.5 crore from media organisations and the intern.
On Jan 11, Justice Kumar threatened to initiate criminal and civil defamation suits if media organisations — Indian Express, TimesNow and CNN-IBN — failed to apologize.
The plea sought direction for the central government to ensure that no media organisation — print, electronic or internet — carries any report or articles relating to the law intern’s complaint.
The defamation and damages suit was filed against the Express, its reporter, two television news channels, the law intern and the ministry of information and broadcasting.
“Pass a decree for permanent injunction restraining the defendant 1 to 5 … from carrying any reports or articles or telecast any matter directly or indirectly pertaining to purported complaint of intern,” the plea said.
During the hearing, senior lawyers appeared for Justice Kumar argued that the media published the articles and telecast the allegation without verifying the truth and that this amounted to a media trial.
“The highest judiciary has been targeted,” Rohatgi said, adding it was “not fair reporting, it is yellow journalism. It is journalism for highest TRP, and it is vilification on my (client’s name)”.
He said the media picked out “what was juicy for the story” and “trial by media comes as interference in the course of justice”.
The advocate for TimesNow told the court the channel had been reporting the matter “fairly” and it will do so in future.
CNN-IBN counsel assured the court that the channel will not repeat the telecast of the programme and will report only court proceedings.
The plea said Justice Kumar in the 43 years of his career had earned an impeccable reputation and was well known for his “unimpeachable integrity and high moral values” and was held in high esteem by everyone.
The defamation suit said the media organisations published the law intern’s version to defame him.
“The reckless and irresponsible actions of media organisations … have caused grave and irreparable injury to the reputation of the plaintiff and degraded the dignity of the institution of justice.
“The said acts lowered the esteem of the plaintiff in the estimation of the public at large and his colleagues, staff, peers and members of his social circle,” it said.
Justice Kumar said he was presently presiding over the NGT and fearlessly adjudicating matters listed before him, which involve the interests of corporate and industrial houses besides public interest.
The former judge said the intern had hardly worked for three days in his residential office in May 2011.
Given the presence of two or three clerks and office staff at all times in and around his office, it was impossible that the alleged incident took place, he said.