When legal courts are established its major objective is to provide justice for all. No matter what an individual’s skin colour, gender, or sexuality everyone is equal before the law. Justice, Equity and Good Conscience are the three fundamentals on which the Indian legal system is built. Now to provide justice to all, the court goes through a long process to hear both sides of the story. This long process is often taken advantage of by a lot of people.
One of the ways this aspect of our courts is taken advantage of is by using SLAPP suits. The term ‘SLAPP’ stands for strategic lawsuit against public participation. A SLAPP suit is basically a baseless lawsuit filed against any individual who speaks out against another person or a corporation to the general public. These suits often do not have any bearing in court but is simply initiated to intimidate or scare off the opposition from raising any criticism. SLAPP suits are mainly initiated by large corporations against individuals or small groups to prevent their freedom of speech. Individuals are afraid to engage in these lawsuits because the cost required to hire a lawyer could easily leave a person bankrupt. Therefore, people often question whether their fight is really worth it and often silence themselves.
It’s clear how this is problematic. Debate and discussion are completely eradicated. People fear giving genuine criticism. This fear leads to the violation of an individual’s freedom of speech. Article 19 of the Constitution of India includes the right to express one’s views and opinions at any issue through any medium with reasonable restrictions. Therefore, every individual should be allowed to weigh their opinion on anything they please. But no individual should live with the fear of receiving a SLAPP suit because of giving their opinion on what they felt is wrong.
Even though the term SLAPP suit originated in the United States of America, Indian citizens face a similar problem all the time. There is not a lot of examples of these incidents because the whole point of SLAPP suits is to prevent people from talking. Only a very few individuals pursue such cases but majority of individuals lack the resources and therefore they remain silent. But there are few cases that can be analysed to understand these suits.
In the case of Crop Care Federation of India v. Rajasthan Patrika, the plaintiff was an organization which dealt with agriculture in and India and majority of its shareholders who were large pesticide manufacturers. The defendants were a newspaper organization who alleged that the pesticides used by the company was detrimental to plant and animal life. The plaintiff files a suit for defamation in the High Court of India. The defendant used the defence under Order 7 Rule 11 of the CPC, the suit can be rejected on the grounds that the plaintiff was not a single entity but an association of various firms and therefore a suit for defamation will not stand. Also, both parties agreed that the statements made by the defendant is not directly in reference with the plaintiff and therefore they cannot claim that the defendant defamed them.
Another infamous case, The Indian Institute of Planning & Management v/s M/s. Delhi Press Patra Prakashan P. Ltd. & Another. Where the Caravan, a popular magazine, published an article named “Sweet smell of success – How Arindam Chaudhuri made a fortune out of aspirations and insecurities of India’s middle classes.” Dr Arindam Chaudhuri is the director of the Indian Institute of Planning and Management. IIPM filed a case against the Caravan magazine for defaming the director in the article they published. This led to an injunction order on the Caravan magazine. The seven-year battle finally came to an end when court stated that prima facie the article was based on statements made by several individuals or based on public knowledge and therefore could be defamatory in any sense. This led to the removal of the injunction and allowing the Caravan to publish the article. It is clear that the plaintiff knew that there wasn’t any clear defamation but simply wanted to prevent the defendant from publishing the article. This also isn’t the first time the plaintiff has filed SLAPP suits like these and they’ve also largely succeeded because no one has the resources to fight back.
The final case to be analysed is Tata Sons Limited vs. Greenpeace International. In this case the petitioners asked the High Court to pass an injunction on the defendant’s campaign due to illegal use of their trademark and defamation before a trial. This was because the petitioners were building the Dharma port which would have severely injured the breeding habitat of the Olive Ridley Sea Turtles. In retaliation to this the defendants decided to create a game called ‘Turtles vs. Tata’ where the turtles are seen fleeing from the Tata logo. The petitioners asked for a temporary injunction on the campaign as their company had faced several losses. It was clear that the defendants were protected against this because it was simply a campaign protesting the establishment of the port which would stand as a severe threat to the endangered species. Trade mark law would not be applied in this case because the defendants did not use it for any commercial gain and an injunction without any clear proof of defamation is illegal. Therefore, the injunction was not granted.
The clear message received from the above three examples is that people in power use their resources to force others to be silent. This is a very dangerous practice because if there is no one to criticize an individual for doing something wrong then they continue making that mistake until its too late and we only have ourselves to blame. India is just beginning to report on these SLAPP suits. Anti-Slapp law is in the distant future. But the best way to fight these suits is to not by remaining silent. Companies fear one thing that even money can’t buy and that is the truth. Therefore, we must not fear anyone and must speak the truth that we believe the world should know.
Author: Ben Jose Jose,
IFIM Law School, 1st year