Jaitley had filed a defamation case against Arvind Kejriwal over allegations of corruption made by the Delhi chief minister. Photograph: (Zee News Network)
The court also fined the Delhi chief minister Rs 10,000
The Delhi High Court today warned Arvind Kejriwal against asking any “offensive and scandalous” questions to Arun Jaitley in the defamation cases by the Union finance minister and imposed Rs 10,000 as costs on him for not filing a reply in one of them. The objectionable remarks were made during the cross- examination of Jaitley by senior advocate Ram Jethmalani, who had represented Kejriwal. Justice Manmohan held that such remarks were indecent, scandalous and abusive and sought an undertaking from senior counsel Anoop George Chaudhari, appearing for the chief minister, that no objectionable and offensive questions would be put to Jaitley during the cross-examination on August 28. After objectionable remarks were made by Jethmalani, who had claimed that he had instruction from Kejriwal, another defamation suit was filed by Jaitley which was listed before Joint Registrar Pankaj Gupta. The joint registrar took a strong view of Kejriwal not filing his reply to the second lawsuit and imposed Rs 10,000 as costs on him and posted the matter to September four. The case before the joint registrar had come after the hearing before Justice Manmohan, who said, “I have never seen such scandalous words being used in any suit and it is uncalled for.
“This is not the way to conduct the cross-examination, they have to control themselves,” the judge said. “You have used some words… Do these fall under free speech? Are you aware that these are unparliamentary words?” the judge said, asking Kejriwal’s counsel Chaudhari to maintain decorum. “No person who has invoked the jurisdiction of this court can be subjected to offensive, scandalous and/or abusive language in the garb of cross-examination,” the judge said.
Justice Manmohan said the statement and the assurance given by the senior counsel for Kejriwal “is accepted by this court and the chief minister is held bound by the same.” The judge said that if the assurance furnished was breached, the aggrieved party would be given liberty to approach the court. The court also said it was of the view that liberty of free expression could not be confused with the license to make “unfounded, unwarranted and irresponsible aspersions”. Observing that such words were prohibited under the Evidence Act, the court said if there was even an “iota” of scandalous questions in future cross-examination, it would transfer the case from the joint registrar to a bench of the high court.
“However, as Kejriwal has now filed a reply accompanied by an affidavit stating that he had not instructed his senior counsel to use words like…, this court (with consent of senior counsel for Kejriwal) declares the said questions/ expressions… against the plaintiff (Jaitley) as indecent and scandalous in accordance with Section 151 of the Act,” Justice Manmohan said in his order.
During the proceedings, Chaudhari said, “No scandalous questions would be put at all and the questions would be in the ambit of the Evidence Act only.” He submitted that Kejriwal has already filed his response that he had never instructed Jethmalani to use any scandalous or abusive word against the Union minister. The court took notice of Chaudhari’s statement and observed, “You (Kejriwal) are disowning him (Jethmalani), but your counsel made the remarks.” “All of you will have to help in the conduct of the cross-examination of the Union minister in a dignified manner,” it said, adding that the problem was that because of the personalities involved, it was answerable to the public. “We have to deal with the public. If we cannot control the constitutional authorities like you, the public will come and say you allow them to make such statements. We have to curb it with a heavy hand,” it said. It, however, refrained from passing any order against Kejriwal after noting his earlier submission that he had not instructed Jethmalani to use any objectionable remark against Jaitley.
Senior counsel Rajiv Nayar, Sandeep Sethi and Manik Dogra, appearing for Jaitley, insisted on an affidavit from Jethmalani, saying one of them was “lying or making a wrong statement”. “My client (Jaitley) was insulted (during cross- examination), now both of them deny it. In every hearing would I be subjected to humiliation? There has to be some mechanism,” said Nayar, asking that action be taken by the Bar Council of India (BCI) against Jethmalani as Kejriwal has filed an affidavit saying he did not ask him to use objectionable words against Jaitley.
The court, however, was of the view that it would not interfere as Jaitley has already initiated a second defamation suit on this issue. It deferred the cross-examination of Jaitley from July 28 to August 28 as Kejriwal’s counsel sought time to go through the file which he received recently. It also said that on the day of the cross-examination, only the council connected to the case would be allowed to enter the joint registrar’s room.
The court also directed the joint registrar to expedite the recording of evidence in the civil defamation suit and disposed of the application filed by Jaitley in this regard. Jaitley had filed an application to expedite the recording of evidence in an orderly and fair manner in the first Rs 10-crore defamation suit against Kejriwal and the five AAP leaders for allegations of corruption made by them against him.
The application for expeditious hearing said that “numerous irrelevant and scandalous questions have been asked during the cross-examination” of the Union minister and that “abusive and defamatory statements have been made” on the instruction of Kejriwal.