The Delhi High Court on Wednesday ordered the transfer of Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Vishal Pahuja, who has presided over the criminal defamation case filed by former Union minister MJ Akbar against journalist Priya Ramani, PTI reported. Ramani had accused Akbar of sexual harassment in October 2018, following which he sued her.
Pahuja, who presided over a special court in the Rouse Avenue District Court set up to hear cases against parliamentarians and legislators, has now been transferred to Karkardooma district court as senior civil judge-cum-rent controller. Ravindra Kumar Pandey will replace him.
The judge is among 215 judicial officers who were transferred and posted with immediate effect in a notification issued by the Registrar General of the Delhi High Court, Manoj Jain. The public notice lists the names of 168 judges who were transferred, and another 47 judicial officers who were inducted to be metropolitan magistrates.
The transfer of judges is a routine affair. However, it is likely to delay the hearing of cases, as the judges who replace the current one may have to hear the arguments from various sides again.
The case against Ramani is in the final stages of hearing. On November 10, Akbar presented his final arguments in the case and told judge Pahuja that Ramani did not make defamatory comments about him for public good but out of vengeance.
Senior advocate Geeta Luthra, appearing for Akbar, argued that Ramani’s allegations against the politician were “recklessly” made without “without any care or caution”, damaging the reputation of Akbar.
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.”