A Delhi court on Saturday asked if a mutual settlement could be reached between Bharatiya Janata Party MP MJ Akbar and journalist Priya Ramani in a criminal defamation case he had filed against her, reported PTI. Ramani had accused Akbar of sexual harassment in October 2018, following which he sued her.

Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Ravindra Kumar Pandey posed the question as he started hearing the final arguments in the case afresh. Earlier this week, Pandey replaced Vishal Pahuja, who had presided over the criminal defamation case.

The court has asked both the parties to respond regarding the settlement on November 24, the next date of the hearing.

Pahuja, who presided over a special court in the Rouse Avenue District Court set up to hear cases against parliamentarians and MLAs, was on November 19 transferred to Karkardooma district court as senior civil judge-cum-rent controller. The transfer is a routine affair but is likely to delay the hearing in the case.

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, claimed that Ramani’s allegations against the politician were “recklessly” made without “without any care or caution”, damaging the reputation of Akbar.

The case

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.”