Right to reputation integral part of right to life: Bombay High Court quashes Section 498A case against judicial officer

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The Bombay High Court, while quashing a First Information Report (FIR) registered against a judicial officer for cruelty, observed that right to reputation and right to dignity are integrated in Articles 19(2) and 21 of the Indian Constitution. [Vrushali Jayesh Kore v. The State of Maharashtra and Ors.]
A Bench of Justices Anuja Prabhudessai and RM Joshi quoted Shakespeare to highlight the importance of right to reputation.

“It is to be noted that loss of character or bruised reputation cannot be restored even by judicial reprieve. As Shakespeare has famously said that “Good name in man and woman, dear my lord, is the immediate jewel of their souls: Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing; ’twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands: But he that filches from me my good name Robs me of that which not enriches him and makes me poor indeed,” the Court said.

The FIR was filed against the woman judge, her brother and their family by her brother’s estranged wife alleging cruelty under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), as well as offences under Sections 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace), 406 (criminal breach of trust), 506 (criminal intimidation) IPC and Section 3 of the Dowry Prohibition Act.

The Court observed that the FIR prima facie revealed that there was a rift in marital ties between the complainant and her husband, and that the applicant had been dragged into it.

The complainant alleged, among other things, that she was told to ‘cook her own food’ after the applicant ordered Chicken Biryani for her brother, that she was told not to raise her voice against her parents-in-law, and that the applicant phoned her brother and suggested divorcing the complainant.

The complainant also stated that the applicant, a judicial officer, should have intervened in the dispute impartially and without bias.

The Court, based on the Supreme Court’s verdict in State of Haryana and Ors v. Bhajan Lal and Ors said that even if the accusations were taken at face value, they did not constitute an offence justifying an investigation.

Further, the Court observed that unfounded criminal charges and prosecution can have serious consequences on a person, as a result of which they may suffer from mental trauma, humiliation and monetary loss.

“Reckless imputations can also result in serous repercussion on career progression and future pursuits and most importantly it stigmatizes reputation, brings disrepute and lowers the image of a person amongst friends, family and colleagues,” the Court said.

The Court said that it was imperative for it to safeguard and protect rights of every person subjected to such litigation and prevent misuse of the criminal process for personal vendetta. Hence, it allowed the application and quashed the FIR.

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