The district and sessions judge of the Rouse Avenue court in Delhi on Wednesday said that the order on whether to transfer author-turned-politician MJ Akbar’s defamation case against journalist Priya Ramani to another court will be pronounced on October 22, reported Bar and Bench. Ramani had accused Akbar of sexual harassment in October 2018, following which he sued her.
The matter came up for hearing before Sujata Kohli, the district and sessions judge of the Rouse Avenue court on Wednesday, after Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Vishal Pahuja on Tuesday told both parties that his court does not have the jurisdiction to continue hearing the case. The court had been hearing the case for the last two years. Pahuja on Tuesday said that as per a circular from February 2018, the court can only hear cases filed against MPs or MLAs, and not by them.
Akbar remains a Rajya Sabha MP of the Bharatiya Janata Party though he had quit as Union minister after a horde of allegations against him surfaced during the #MeToo movement. Most of the hearings in the case have already taken place, including the final arguments. On Tuesday, the court was expected to hear a rebuttal from Akbar’s lawyer to Ramani’s final arguments, made last month.
During Wednesday’s hearing, senior advocate Geeta Luthra, who represents Akbar, requested that the matter be sent back to the Special Court. “Two years back, the case was marked to his court [Special Court]. Both of us [complainant and accused] argued in detail. I am on the stage of rebuttal,” she said.
Ramani’s counsel Bhavook Chauhan left it to the Rouse Avenue court to decide on the transfer. He, however, added that it was clear to him that the Special Court was solely for MP/MLAs.
The court observed that a complaint by an MP/MLA should not be covered by the Special Court. “This notification was passed long back in 2018,” the court added. “This case was filed in 2018 only. None of the officers took note of it. None of the counsels took notice and everything continued.” It further said that if it was found that the Special Court did not have the jurisdiction, the entire trial will be vitiated.
Ramani had first made the allegations about an incident of sexual harassment by an acclaimed newspaper editor in an article in Vogue India in 2017. She identified Akbar as that editor in October 2018 during the #MeToo movement, in a series of tweets. Soon after this, around 20 more women accused Akbar of sexual misconduct over several years during his journalistic career.
The Patiala House Court had on January 2019 issued summons to Ramani in the defamation case. In February 2019, she was granted bail on a personal bond of Rs 10,000. In May 2019, Akbar had denied meeting Ramani in a hotel room where she alleged he had sexually harassed her. He denied all information about the meeting that Ramani had narrated.
Ramani told the court in Delhi on September 19 that she deserved to be acquitted, because she shared her experience in good faith and encouraged other women to speak out against sexual harassment. Ramani’s lawyer Rebecca John, while submitting her final arguments in the case, said that Ramani had proved her allegations against Akbar with solid evidence, which were also confirmed by multiple women.
Ramani’s lawyer also responded to Akbar’s accusation that her tweets had tarnished the reputation he built through his work. “Hard work is not exclusive to MJ Akbar,” she quoted Ramani as saying. “This case is not about how hard he worked.. My case is that before I met him, I admired him as a journalist. But his conduct with me and the shared experience of other women do not justify this complaint.”