'Factually incorrect, mala fide': MJ Akbar's lawyer Geeta Luthra presents rejoinder in defamation suit against Priya Ramani

In her arguments, she stressed mainly on proving Akbar's 'impeccable reputation'. 'Calling a person a predator is per se defamatory,' Luthra pointed out referring to Priya Ramani's 2017 Vogue article.

FP Staff November 10, 2020 16:44:42 IST
'Factually incorrect, mala fide': MJ Akbar's lawyer Geeta Luthra presents rejoinder in defamation suit against Priya Ramani

Representational image. MJ Akbar, left, Priya Ramani, right.

On Tuesday, 10 November, MJ Akbar's senior advocate Geeta Luthra presented rejoinder arguments in her client's defamation case against Priya Ramani before ACMM Vishal Pahuja at Rouse Avenue Court, New Delhi. Luthra was responding to the final arguments made by Ramani's legal counsel, senior advocate Rebecca John, on 19 September.

John's final submissions had noted that "freedom of speech and expression is intrinsic to a democratic society. Ramani has shown how to make a statement in good faith and public interest. #MeToo movement gave a platform to thousands of women all across the world to come forward and share their stories of sexual harassment," as reported by Live Law.

In response, Luthra on Tuesday argued that, "For some people, reputation is more important than one's life," citing the Supreme Court judgment in Subramanian Swamy vs Union of India wherein the validity of criminal defamation was held.

Luthra said that in all these years no one has ever cast any aspersions on Akbar's character and that his reputation "cannot be tarnished in this manner". "Allegations against him are unfounded and made without any care any caution" she argues claiming that Ramani had no evidence to corroborate her claims of being harassed by Akbar in a hotel room in 1994.

"What is most offensive is that you make such allegations on a public domain, like Twitter, where I will have no opportunity to defend myself without indulging in mud-slinging," Luthra stresses.

She said that she is not concerned with Ramani's reputation and that it is not the subject matter of the defamation case. "This case is only related to Akbar's reputation," Luthra argued and continued: "Ramani didn't have to name and blame the person she talked about in her Vogue article. That's a sign of her malice. On what basis did she call Akbar the 'biggest predator of media', what care and caution did she follow? Ramani didn't make these statements for the public good, she made them out of vengeance. She didn't even apologise for a factually incorrect statement. It shows her scant regard for truth."

"Calling a person a predator is per se defamatory," Luthra pointed out.

In her arguments, she stressed mainly on proving Akbar's "impeccable reputation" and to support her claims she read out portions of Akbar's statements made during his examination in chief; she also reiterated the illustrious list of Akbar's publications and PW Veenu Sandal's statements.

"Person after person has said Akbar had an impeccable reputation both in personal and professional life. Akbar was a tough professional, a tough taskmaster — that's what all the prosecution witnesses have claimed. There's nothing on record to impeach the statements of prosecution witnesses exonerating Akbar's impeccable reputation," argued Luthra.

She talked about a tweet that Ramani had put out saying Akbar had resigned from his office, which Luthra claimed was incorrect. She further pointed out that "the per se effect of Ramani's statements was defamatory, damaging the reputation of Akbar." Further, she also accused Ramani of acting mala fide with regard to her article in the Vogue that was published in 2017.

"Ramani wrote a fictitious piece in Vogue in the context of #MeToo movement. Ramani's selective memory shows her mala fide intention, it shows premeditated behaviour," Luthra alleged. She questioned Ramani's intention and faith in the public interest and said that Ramani had plenty of opportunities and platforms to raise her voice against sexual harassment prior to 2018.

After reading from another past judgement, Luthra attacked Ramani's account of the alleged sexual harassment by a "male boss" and said it referred to Akbar alone — something Ramani's legal counsel Rebecca John had denied before the court. "I would like to highlight at this point that the article deals with both Akbar and other male bosses," John had mentioned in her final arguments as presented before the Delhi court on 5 September.

Luthra today said that Ramani not quoting the sources that she used in her article "shows her value and character as a witness," to which the court pointed an anomaly in charge [in the defamation suit filed by Akbar].

Luthra will continue with her arguments on 21 November.

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