The Calcutta High Court recently in a case had observed that writing a letter to the husband's superior at work, in good faith, intimating him about a criminal case lodged against the husband for inflicting torture, would not amount to criminal defamation under Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.
The wife (petitioner) in the present case had written a letter dated 24th May, 1997 to the Manager, Indian Overseas Bank intimating him that her husband who was the Assistant Manager of Overseas Bank had been torturing her and she been thrown out by him from her matrimonial house.
She mentioned that a criminal case under Section 498A CrPC, 1973, (cruelty) had been initiated against her husband following which he had been arrested and subsequently released on bail.
The petitioner in her letter had also attached a certified copy of the order and had requested the Manager to take necessary actions as he deemed, considering the relevant set of facts which she had mentioned through her letter.
"There remains little to be said that the letter in question was a statement of fact instead of any imputation to harm the reputation of the opposite party", the Court observed.
Justice Ananda Kumar Mukherjee noted that there was absolutely nothing in the petitioner’s letter that was instigative in nature. She had simply suggested that actions be taken in accordance with what is considered to be the best possible recourse in the said situation.
It was simply the narration of facts which were in corroboration with the incidents that had taken place with her i.e. facts relating to filling of cases for alleged torture.
He further said that there was no 'embellishment of facts' and that no coercive action had been sought by the petitioner against her husband vide the letter.
It was also noted, by the Bench, that any representation made by a person in good faith for protecting his/her own interest would not amount to defamation as the Ninth Exception under Section 499 IPC, 1860, protects imputations made in good faith by person for protection of his or other's interests.
The Court further highlighted that the Fifth Exception under Section 499 IPC, 1860, stipulates that a representation would not amount to defamation if an opinion is expressed on the merits of any case in good faith which has been decided by a Court in respect of the conduct of a person.
"In the instant case on the basis of the material available in the Case Diary the bail of the opposite party was rejected by the court. Therefore, subsequent acquittal of the opposite party cannot undo his arrest and his released on bail by the court, therefore such representation when made in the letter would be covered by the 5th exception of section 499 of IPC", the Court remarked further.
The court took into consideration that the letter was written by the petitioner to the husband’s Superior on the 24th of May’ 1997 whereas the complaint of defamation was initiated by him on June 8, 2009, which is a huge lapse of twelve long years. Thus it was held that the complaint filed under Section 200 CrPC by the husband against the petitioner alleging criminal defamation is barred by the law of limitation under Section 468 CrPC, 1973
Accordingly, the Court observed that case initiated by the husband is barred by limitation as the date of offence should be construed from the date of issuing the letter that is on May 24, 1997.
Reliance was placed on the Allahabad High Court decision in Naresh Chand Jain Vs. State of U.P and others and on the Calcutta High Court judgment in Rabindra Nath Pal v. Ratikanta Paul & others the Court opined that a case for the offence of defamation should be filed within three years from the date of publication.
Thus, the Court set aside the complaint lodged by the husband against the petitioner for the offence of defamation by observing that the same is barred by limitation and thus a continuation of such proceedings would lead to an abuse of the process of Court.
Case Title: Malancha Mohinta v. Dipak Mohinta