Friday, August 4, 2023

Supreme Court stays Rahul Gandhi's conviction in defamation case

In Rahul Gandhi v. Purnesh Ishwarbhai Modi & State of Gujarat, Supreme Court's 3-judge Bench passed an order upon hearing the 
appeal challenging the judgment and order passed by the Single Judge of the High Court dismissing the revision petition, which was in turn filed challenging the order of the Sessions Judge, thereby rejecting the prayer for stay of conviction. 
Consequent to his conviction by the Court of Chief Judicial Magistrate, Surat in C.C.18712/2019, Rahul Gandhi, Member of Lok Sabha representing the Wayanad Parliamentary Constituency of Kerala was disqualified from the membership of Lok Sabha from the date of his conviction i.e. 23 March, 2023 in terms of the provisions of Article 102 (1) (e) of the Constitution of India read with Section 8 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951. The notification dated 24h March, 2023 to this effect was issued by Utpal Kumar Singh, Secretary General, Lok Sabha Secretariat. 

The order of the Supreme Court took into consideration the fact that "no reasons have been given by the learned Trial Judge for imposing the maximum sentence which has the effect of incurring disqualification under Section 8(3) of the Act, the order of conviction needs to be stayed, pending hearing of the present appeal. We, therefore, stay the order of conviction during the pendency of the present appeal."

Justice Hemant Prachchhak of the High Court had affirmed the decision of a Gujarat sessions court, dated April 20 which had refused to put on hold a magisterial court order on March 23, 2023 convicting Rahul Gandhi, the ex-President of Indian National Congress. He ordered the maximum punishment provided for criminal defamation under the Indian Penal Code. The magisterial court had in March convicted Gandhi for his remarks ahead of the 2019 national polls about the ‘Modi’ surname. He had at that time allegedly said: “How come all thieves have Modi surname in common”. Gandhi was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment which disqualified him as an MP under the rigours of the Representation of People's Act. Gandhi was declared disqualified as MP from Kerala’s Wayanad on March 24 following a notification of the Lok Sabha Secretariat.

Supreme Court took into account the issue of grant of stay of conviction factors like: The sentence for an offence punishable under Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (for short “IPC”) is simple imprisonment for two years or fine or both. It noted that "The learned Trial Judge, in the order passed by him, has awarded the maximum sentence of imprisonment for two years. 

Except the admonition given to the appellant by this Court in contempt proceedings Contempt Petition (Crl) No.3/2019 in Yashwant Sinha and Others v.Central Bureau of Investigation through its Director and another, reported in (2020) 2 SCC 338] no other reason has been assigned by the learned Trial Judge while imposing the maximum sentence of two years. It is to be noted that it is only on account of the maximum sentence of two years imposed by the learned Trial Judge, the provisions of sub-section (3) of Section 8 of the Representation of the People Act, 1950 (for short, “the Act”) have come into play. Had the sentence been even a day lesser, the provisions of subsection (3) of Section 8 of the Act would not have been attracted. Particularly, when an offence is non-cognizable, bailable and compoundable, the least that the Trial Judge was expected to do was to give some reasons as to why, in the facts and circumstances, he found it necessary to impose the maximum sentence of two years.Though the learned Appellate Court and the learned High Court have spent voluminous pages while rejecting the application for stay of conviction, these aspects have not even been touched in their orders". It emerges that Appellate Court's order was flawed. 

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