Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Wednesday suffered a jsetback when the Delhi high court dismissed his plea seeking stay of trial court proceedings court in a criminal defamation case filed by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley saying, there was no "illegality" in continuing it simultaneously with a civil defamation suit.
The high court said there was "no prejudice" on account of a pending civil suit and there was no "double jeopardy" and as such Kejriwal's plea was "deviod of merit".
It said the criminal and civil defamation cases were "different in nature".
"There is no legal impediment to invoke the civil proceedings for defamation as well as initiating the criminal proceedings for defamation simultaneously and continuation of the same," Justice Teji said.
Kejriwal had contented that proceedings before the trial court should be stayed since a civil suit was pending before the high court.
Regarding the challenge to the magisterial court's May 19 order dismissing Kejriwal's plea to grant stay on proceedings due to pendency of civil suit, the high court said that the trial court order was "free from perversity, impropriety, illegality and non-sustainability".
"Resultantly, the request of the petitioner (Kejriwal) to adjourn the proceedings before the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate is rejected being devoid of merit and the same is culminated into dismissal of the present petition," the high court said in its 30-page judgement.
Regarding Kejriwal's submission that continuation of both the cases would tantamount to double jeopardy, the court said, "the contention of the petitioner is not tenable in view of the fact that the proceedings initiated by respondent no.1 (Jaitley) against him are entirely different".
"While the civil proceedings have been initiated claiming damages for damaging the reputation of the respondent no.1, the case at hand is the criminal defamation. Pendency of both the cases cannot be said to be said to be amounting to double jeopardy," the court said.
Dealing with the ground of prejudice raised by the Aam Aadmi Party leader, the court said, "Prejudice to the right of the accused is the prime consideration to stay the proceedings. No prejudice to the right of the accused has been demonstrated in the present case".
It said nothing has been brought before it to the effect that continuation of criminal proceedings before the trial court was an "abuse of the process of law".
The court observed that though Jaitley has initiated two proceedings, "the fact remains that same are distinct and separate cases".
"Therefore, this court is of the view that the petitioner (Kejriwal) cannot get the stay of the criminal defamation case at hand by claiming the benefit under section 10 of the CPC (civil procedure code)," the court said.
The court also did not agree with Kejriwal's arguments in which he had contended that any finding recorded by the high court was binding on the court subordinate to it.
"When two separate statutes provide for separate jurisdiction to try civil and criminal cases in two different courts, the same cannot be said to be binding upon each other or the Court subordinate to it," it said.
The high court also opined that there was no bar on a magistrate taking cognisance of the offence, which he may be of the opinion is said to have been committed by a person whose matter is still pending in a civil court.
"As mentioned above, both the matters between the parties i.e. the civil suit as pending before this court and the complaint filed by the respondent no.1 (Jaitley) before the Magistrate, are separate and independent proceedings and they can go on side by side," it said.
The high court also held that there is no illegality or unsustainability in the law in continuation of the criminal proceedings before the CMM and it is empowered to continue with the same.
The high court order came on Kejriwal's plea challenging the trial court's May 19 order by which it had turned down his request to adjourn hearing on a criminal defamation case before it, till the high court decides a related civil suit.
In his plea, Kejriwal had contended that there are two cases -- one civil and the other criminal -- filed against AAP leaders on the same allegations and the trial court should have stayed the proceedings in the matter, but it had declined.
Jaitley had filed a criminal defamation complaint alleging Kejriwal and five AAP leaders--Raghav Chadha, Kumar Vishwas, Ashutosh, Sanjay Singh and Deepak Bajpai--had defamed him in the Delhi District Cricket Association controversy.
On April 7, the trial court had granted bail to Kejriwal and others in the case after they had appeared before it.
Jaitley had on December 21, 2015, filed the criminal defamation case against the AAP leaders and sought their prosecution for offences that entail a punishment of up to two years in jail.
Besides the criminal defamation case, Jaitley has also filed a civil defamation suit in the high court seeking Rs 10 crore in damages from Kejriwal and the five AAP leaders for issuing allegedly false and defamatory statements against him and his family in connection with alleged irregularities in DDCA when he was its president.