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Review: Bombay HC Rules That Freedom of Expression and Speech Should Not be Allowed to Go Beyond Reasonableness


In this edition of Court judgements review, we look at Supreme Court’s observation in a case that absconding after a crime is not an indication of guilt, Madras HC’s order that medical claim cannot be rejected for treatment in non-network hospital, Bombay HC’s order that freedom of expression and speech should not be allowed to go beyond reasonableness in a case relating to provocative Facebook posts of an employee against the employer, among others.

SC: Absconding after a crime is not an indication of guilt

In the case, Sekaran vs. the State of Tamil Nadu, the appellant was involved in a quarrel with the victim in 1996. The victim was Palas, a “coconut cutting coolie” working under him. Palas had demanded his wages of Rs. 50 to which the appellant responded with filthy language and abused him. This was followed by physical abuse between them. The appellant picked up a rubber stick lying nearby and hit Palas on the front and back sides of his head while exhorting him to get lost. Palas fell down and some men came and separated the two. Two days later, Palas succumbed to the head injury in a hospital, according to the postmortem report.

An FIR was registered, and the Trial Court convicted the appellant for committing murder and sentenced him to life in prison along with a fine of Rs. 1,000. In the appeal, the Madras High Court observed that the appellant had caused the injury to the head which may have resulted in death, but he did not have the intention to kill him. The court found him guilty of the offence under section 304-Part II of the IPC and sentenced him to five years rigorous imprisonment. He then appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court bench of Justice BR Gavai, Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Aravind Kumar observed that the circumstances surrounding the unfortunate death of the victim do not clearly and unequivocally point to the involvement of the appellant and so, his false implication cannot be wholly ruled out.  Noting that there were certain gaps in the evidence presented and no satisfactory explanation for the belated registration of the FIR, he was acquitted of charges under Section 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) of the IPC as the prosecution was unable to establish the accusation beyond a reasonable doubt.

Even though it wasn’t mentioned during the arguments, it came out in the testimony of a witness that the person accused wasn’t caught until three years after the incident. The court stated that it was not unusual for someone to hide if they knew the police were looking for them after a case had been filed against them. On these grounds, it established that even if the appellant was untraceable for a long time or he was absconding, it need not necessarily mean that he was guilty. 

Madras HC: Medical claim cannot be rejected for treatment in non-network hospital

The case, Mani vs. Principal Secretary to Government of Tamil Nadu was regarding the disbursal of medical reimbursement claim. In this case, Mani was a retired state government employee and was a member of the Medical Health scheme, paying subscription regularly. He had undergone surgery for a left renal tumour for which he spent over Rs. 1.2 lakhs. He alleged that when he applied for medical reimbursement, the Director of Health and Rural Services rejected it citing that the treatment was in a non-network hospital.

Justices SM Subramaniam and V Lakshminarayanan of the Madras High Court reiterated that medical claims should not be rejected just because the treatment was undertaken in a non-network hospital. They stated that several orders regarding the settlement of the medical claim for treatment undertaken in a non-network hospital had been passed by the Courts and the issue was no longer res-integra. In this case, the court also observed that there was no dispute regarding the genuineness of the treatment, and so there was no reason to reject the medical reimbursement. It directed the insurance company to settle the claim within 6 weeks.

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Gujarat HC: Man can be accused of rape even if he commits it on his wife, a woman

In the case, Anjanaben w/o Bhavinbhai Devshankarbhai Modha vs. State of Gujarat, the appellant was accused, along with her son and husband were arrested for charges under sections 354 (A)(C), 376, 376 (D), 498, 506, 508, and 509 of the Indian Penal Code which deal with rape, sexual harassment, harassment by spouse and their family, and criminal intimidation. According to the complainant, the appellant and her husband compelled their son to take nude videos and photographs of the complainant and share them in a WhatsApp group to sell the same to a pornographic website. Further, the complaint also alleged that the father-in-law allegedly used to sexually assault the complainant. 

The appellant was aware of the same and the acts were done in her presence. She sought bail from the Ahmedabad High Court. The contention before the court was whether the appellant could be charged for rape and sexual harassment as she was only an abettor. 

A bench of Justice Divyesh A Joshi of the High Court denied bail to her and observed that rape is rape, be it performed by a man the ‘husband’ against his own ‘wife’, a woman and so he was liable to punishment for rape under Section 376 of the IPC. It added that marital rape was illegal in 50 American States, 3 Australian States, New Zealand, Canada, and many other countries. Even the UK, which the IPC largely draws from, has done away with the exemption, the court observed. The court also emphasized that the silence around gender violence should be broken in society.  

This judgement comes at a time when a series of petitions seeking to criminalize marital rape are pending before the Supreme Court. Contrary to the Gujarat High Court’s decision, the Allahabad High Court held that marital rape is an offence only if the wife is aged below 18 years while hearing a petition last week. More details about that judgement can be read here.

Bombay HC: Freedom of expression and speech should not be allowed to go beyond reasonableness

Hitachi, an automobile parts manufacturing company had terminated an employee after he uploaded two posts on Facebook against the company in 2017 when there were agitations and hunger strikes by employees over the settlement of wages by the company. The employee was an active office bearer of the union in the company and the posts on Facebook were provocative. 

Earlier this year, the Labour Court of Pune held that enquiry and termination of the employee was illegal. Hitachi challenged the order before the Mumbai High Court in Hitachi Astemo Fie Pvt. Ltd. vs. Nirajkumar Prabhakarrao Kadu. Justice Milind Jadhav of the Bombay High Court allowed the appeal and quashed the Labour Court’s order. The Bench held that such Facebook posts were clearly an act of inciting hatred and passion against the management. It observed that freedom of speech and expression should not be allowed to go beyond the limit of reasonableness or else it would lead to disastrous consequences. It added that such acts should be ‘nipped in the bud’.

Chhattisgarh HC: Ex-partner cannot be held for abetment if lover commits suicide due to failed relationship

In the case, Pooja Chopra vs. the State of Chhattisgarh, the petitioner was named in the suicide note of her ex-romantic partner. The petitioner and the deceased were in a romantic relationship for over five to seven years and had plans to get married. However, in the suicide note, it was mentioned that she suddenly broke up with him, developed an affair with another person and was about to marry him. It also mentioned in the note that the deceased was forced to take his life as the petitioner, her brother and her new partner threatened and harassed him. Based on the note, the police registered a case charging the three with abetment of suicide. The Trial Court also upheld the same. 

Dissatisfied, they approached the Chhattisgarh High Court. Justice Parth Prateem Sahu referred to many past cases and quashed the charges stating that if a lover commits suicide due to a failed romantic relationship, the ex-lover cannot be held to have blamed for the wrong decision taken by a man of weak or frail mentality. Further, the Court observed that there was no mention in the suicide letter or statements of any witness as to when the petitioners had given threats or whether it was constant or a single incident. It also noted that the note could be an expression of anguish over the betrayal in the relationship. The note did not establish ‘abetment’.

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About Author

A bachelor’s degree in mathematics and master’s in social science, she is driven by ardent desire to work with this unique combination to create her own path instead of following the herd. Having served a stint as the college union chairperson, she is a strategist who is also passionate about nature conservation, art and loves solving Sudoku.

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