Delhi HC defines a “blog”

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The High Court of Delhi by its recent decision in R.P. Luthra v. CBI (W.P. Crl.1520/2014) has had occasion to define the evidentiary value of a, “blog”. The judgement has some significance given the recent Supreme Court decision of Anvar P.V. vs P.K.Basheer & Ors. which held that compliance with Section 65B of the Evidence Act, 1872 is mandatory for persons who intend to rely upon emails, websites or any electronic records in a civil or criminal case.

Facts & Issues

R.P. Luthra v. CBI concerned a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking a writ of mandamus directing the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to register a criminal case. The basis of the allegations made by the Petitioner arose from a blog post made by former Supreme Court Judge, M. Katju. Justice (Retd.) M. Katju had in his personal blog made allegations of corruption against a former judge of the High Court of Madras. Based on this, the Petitioner approached the Delhi High Court asking for a criminal case to be registered by the CBI to investigate the allegations of corruption.

The Court expresses its reluctance to grant a writ of mandamus for the following reasons:

  • The appointment of the judge has already been the basis of a Supreme Court judgement in Shanti Bhushan and Anr. vs. Union of India (2009) 1 SCC 657. The Supreme Court in the case on equitable grounds declined to interfere with the appointment.
  • The judge in question had retired and has subsequently expired.
  • The allegations of corruption were made in a blog post.

I am going to analyze the third and final reason, limiting my comment to the evidentiary value of a blog post.

Evidentiary value of a “blog” post

The Court expressing reluctance to issue directions on the basis of a blog post states that, “it is also relevant to note that “blog” is nothing but a personal website that allows the users to reflect, share opinions and discuss various topics in the form of an online journal and sometimes letting the readers comment on their posts.

It goes on further to then use five dictionary definitions to conclude that, “As could be seen from the above definitions, the statements in a blog are only the personal opinion of the user and cannot take the place of evidence”.

Finally equating a blog to a newspaper and placing reliance on Laxmi Raj Shetty & Anr. Vs. State of Tamil Nadu, (1988) 3 SCC 319 it holds the blogs at best constitute hearsay evidence. On the basis of this the Court dismisses the case.

Some criticisms

At the outset of any criticism, I would like to state, I fully agree with the conclusion reached by the Court. The discretionary jurisdiction of a Court for a PIL is to be used sparingly. Investigation into allegations of corruption against a former judge who has passed away by way of a PIL is not an appropriate remedy. It may be carried forward by a judicial accountability commission, if it may, at all. That said I disagree with some of the reasoning provided which requires comment.

While it is correct that a blog post will hold the same evidentiary value as a newspaper article, the application of the reasoning here is incorrect for the following reasons:

  1. The PIL by itself asks for an inquiry into allegations. This will be done by the registration of a case. The Petitioner does not present the allegations made in the blog as dispositive proof. Neither will the court, even assuming if it grants relief in the PIL directing investigation, convict the judge. Hence, the evidentiary value of the blog as hearsay evidence is irrelevant.
  2. This becomes apparent when the precedent cited by the court (Laxmi Raj Shetty & Anr. Vs. State of Tamil Nadu) is examined for the rule that newspaper reports at best constitute hearsay evidence. The case is not a PIL, it is a murder appeal in the Supreme Court. The High Court judgement which has been appealed to the Supreme Court forms the basis of conviction of the Petitioner from newspaper reports. The Supreme Court correctly holds, that without the examination of the reporter who authored the newspaper report, the newspaper report by itself constitutes hearsay evidence.
  3. The extension of this rule to PILs or even criminal investigations would lead to absurd results. No criminal action would be initiated on the basis of a newspaper or a blog post as it would be hearsay evidence. Again, in my view, the rule of hearsay evidence becomes relevant only at the stage of trial when the newspaper or a blog post is the basis of conviction, not when it is the basis of registration of a criminal case.

Before parting, it would be useful to remember that, “blogs” are considered, “electronic records” under Section 2(t) of the Information Technology Act, 2000. Further Section 3 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 defines, “evidence” to include, “all documents including electronic records”. The mode for proving a piece of, “electronic evidence” will be based on provisions of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, particularly Section 65B which has been discussed here.

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