Delhi Court Issues Fresh Summons to BBC, Wikimedia, and Internet Archive in Hague Convention Service Dispute

The Rohini Court in Delhi has issued fresh summons to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Wikimedia, and Internet Archive through the Legal Affairs Department, Government of India, in compliance with the Hague Convention. This development arises from the ongoing controversy surrounding the documentary series titled “India: The Modi Question.”

The defendants, including BBC, had argued that since they are foreign entities, they should have been served as per the Hague Convention. The court had previously reserved its order on the matter of serving summonses to BBC and other parties in accordance with the Hague Convention. However, Additional District Judge (ADJ) Ruchika Singla has now directed the issuance of fresh summonses to the defendants through the Legal Affairs Department, Ministry of Law and Justice, Government of India.

The ADJ emphasized that as foreign entities, the service of summonses must adhere to the guidelines established by the Hon’ble High Court, as per the Hague Convention of 1965, in line with the rules and circular dated September 13, 2011. The judge further ordered that the fresh summonses be issued upon the filing of PF (process fee) within seven days, to be served through the Department of Legal Affairs, Ministry of Law & Justice, Government of India.

The court clarified that, according to the rules formulated under the Hague Convention and the Government of India, summonses or notices in foreign countries can only be served through the Department of Legal Affairs, Ministry of Law and Justice, which has not been done in the present case.

During the proceedings, the counsel for the plaintiff argued that as the defendants had already engaged their counsels and appeared in court, the service was deemed to have been effected, and the defendant Internet Archive could not raise the issue of improper service at this stage. However, the court referred to a Supreme Court judgment stating that the appearance of an advocate and the filing of a Vakalatnama (power of attorney) do not replace the requirement of properly serving the writ of summonses.

Consequently, the judgment stated that the defendant, in the absence of proper service of summonses, could not have made any representation or filed a written statement. The court clarified that the mere filing of a Vakalatnama and the appearance of the advocate on behalf of the defendant did not waive the requirement for the service of summonses.

The court is currently hearing a plea seeking a restraining order on the publication of the BBC documentary based on PM Modi. The counsel for BBC argued that since BBC is a foreign entity, the service should be carried out in accordance with the Hague Convention. The counsel also noted that the plaintiff had used different emails of the entity based in the UK. Similarly, the other defendants, Wikimedia Foundation and Internet Archive, adopted the arguments put forth by BBC’s counsel.

On the other hand, the counsel for the plaintiff, Advocate Mukesh Sharma, argued that BBC (UK) is not a party in the lawsuit and that the suit was filed against BBC India, which is not a foreign entity. Therefore, there is no need to follow the process as per the Hague Convention in this matter.

During the hearing, an application was submitted on behalf of Internet Archive, requesting the removal of its name from the list of parties as it had already removed the link to the contentious content.

British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and Wikimedia Foundation had previously raised jurisdictional concerns before the court, asserting that they had not been properly served according to the Hague Convention as foreign entities.

On May 3, the court had issued summonses to these three organizations in response to a plea filed by Binay Kumar Singh. However, the counsels for BBC and Wikimedia Foundation appeared in protest, refusing to accept copies of the plea, and contending that they had not been properly served. They also argued that the court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case.

The petitioner, Binay Kumar Singh, had filed the plea through social media lawyer Advocate Mukesh Sharma. The petitioner requested the court to restrain the defendants, including their agents, from publishing the two-volume documentary series “India: The Modi Question” or any defamatory material related to the plaintiff, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), on the platforms of Wikimedia and Internet Archive, or any other online or offline platforms. Additionally, the petitioner sought an order directing the defendants to issue an unconditional apology to the plaintiff, RSS, and VHP for the allegedly libelous and defamatory content published in the documentary series. The petitioner also sought damages of Rs 10 lakh for defamation caused by the documentary, citing his association with RSS, VHP, and BJP.

The documentary, “India: The Modi Question,” was aired by BBC in January 2023. The petitioner argues that the documentary disseminated unfounded rumors without verifying the authenticity of the claims made. The accusations made in the series have allegedly fostered animosity between various faith communities, particularly Hindus and Muslims. As a result, the Central government took action to block the documentary using its emergency powers under the law.

The case is ongoing, and further proceedings are awaited.

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