Maryam Nawaz-led Punjab government tables defamation bill in PA

“The Punjab Defamation Bill 2024” was introduced in the Punjab Assembly on Monday, outlining measures to impose fines and either suspend or block the social media accounts of individuals convicted of spreading defamatory content.

The legislation was presented by the Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, Mian Mujtaba Shujaur Rehman, and subsequently, Speaker of the Punjab Assembly Malik Muhammad Ahmad Khan directed that the bill be reviewed by the relevant committee.

This bill seeks to provide legal safeguards against false, misleading, and defamatory statements made through print, electronic, and social media targeting both public figures and private individuals.

The bill stipulates that in cases where defamation is established, the tribunal is authorized to demand that the defendant issue an unconditional apology, should the plaintiff find it satisfactory. This apology must be publicized in the same manner and with the same prominence as the original defamatory statement. Additionally, the defendant would be required to compensate for damages as specified by the legislation.

Furthermore, the bill allows for the tribunal, upon establishing a case of defamation, to order the relevant regulatory body not only to enact the decreed damages or demand an apology but also to suspend or block any social media accounts of the defendant or any platforms or mediums used to spread the defamatory content as covered under this Act.

The proposal includes provisions for the government to establish multiple tribunals as deemed necessary to handle such cases, appoint members to each, and define their geographic jurisdictional limits.

Members of these tribunals are to be appointed by the government in consultation with the Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court. Eligible candidates include those who have served as judges at the Lahore High Court, district judges, or advocates of the Supreme Court of Pakistan with qualifications suitable for appointment as judges at the Lahore High Court.

These tribunals are required to reach a decision within one hundred and eighty days from the defendant’s first appearance.

Before the trial, the tribunal may offer a mediation option through an accredited Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR) Center in the district if both parties agree.

The tribunal is also empowered to assign actual litigation costs, including attorneys’ fees, legal expenses, costs related to witnesses, and other litigation expenses, based on sufficient and justifiable grounds.

In cases of defamation involving sensitive issues related to gender or minorities, a request for in-camera proceedings may be submitted, which the tribunal will decide upon based on the merits of each case.

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