The Madras High Court has reaffirmed the Bombay High Court’s finding that in the absence of a specific penal provision creating vicarious liability, an administrator of a WhatsApp group cannot be held liable for objectionable content posted by the groups, Bar and Bench reported.

Justice GR Swaminathan referred to the Kishore v. State Maharashtra of the Bombay High Court which ruled that a WhatsApp group admin must be deleted from the list of accused if he did not play any part in the crime committed by group members other than being an admin.

However, the Court also held that if another material is gathered that shows the admin being involved in the crime, he may be tried according to the law.

“If the petitioner had played the role of a group administrator alone and nothing else, then while filing the final report, the petitioner’s name shall be deleted,” the Court observed.

The order came on a plea by seeking quashing of a first FIR against the administrator of a group in which certain highly-offensive messages were circulated by a member, which the police claimed would cause ill feelings between communities.

The petition was filed contending that the petitioner was only a group administrator and in no way could be held responsible for messages posted by members of the group.

The complainant argued that the petitioner lacked bona fides and there was collusion between the member and the petitioner since he was removed from the WhatsApp group but added back within a few days.

However, the Court found the petition premature based on the Additional Public Prosecutor’s submission that the forensic report which would help conclude who posted the objectionable messages, was still awaited.

The Bombay High Court in that judgment, had emphasised that a group administrator has the limited power of removing a member of the group or adding other members of the group, and once the group is created, the functioning of the administrator and that of the members is at par with each other, except the power of adding or deleting members to the group.

The Bombay High Court had stated that the creator of a WhatsApp group cannot be expected to presume or have advance knowledge of the members’ criminal acts.

In light of the discussion, the Madras High Court directed that if the petitioner played the role of a group administrator alone, then while filing final report the petitioner’s name be deleted.

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