Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Supreme Court to hear pleas related to Freedom of Speech and Expression on November 15

The Supreme Court will hear on November 15, the petitions related to the limits of right to freedom of speech and expression for public functionaries.

The Constitution Bench of Justice S. Abdul Nazeer, Justice B.R. Gavai, Justice A.S. Bopanna, Justice V. Ramasubramanian and Justice B.V. Nagarathna observed on Monday that restrictions on the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution were to be determined on a case-to-case basis.

The survivors in Bulandshahr rape case had filed a writ petition before the top court of the country, seeking action against Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan, who had termed the incident as a ‘political conspiracy and nothing else’.

The SP leader was directed by the Apex Court to submit an unconditional apology. While issuing the directions to Khan, the Court had noted that the case raised serious concerns regarding state obligation and freedom of speech and expression.

A reference was then made to the Constitution Bench. Attorney General K.K. Venugopal prepared a questionnaire, which included four questions.

The first one talked about whether any restrictions could be imposed on the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression under Article 19(1)(a), excluding restrictions already enumerated under Article 19(2)? If yes, then to what extent? 

Next, it sought to know whether greater restrictions on Article 19(1)(a) could be imposed, if it concerned the persons holding high office? 

The questionnaire further asked whether Article 21 can be enforced against individuals and private corporations not encompassed under the definition of ‘State’ as per Article 12?

It also sought to know whether the State could proceed against the individuals under statutory provisions? 

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing before the Constitution Bench on Monday, submitted that the issues had been covered by the Apex Court, subsequent to the reference. 

While observing that on perusal of the record, it was evident that the Minister who had remarked about the incident of rape had apologised, Justice Nazeer enquired whether in that respect, the discussion on the issue in the petition has become academic.

Appearing in a connected matter, Advocate Kaleeswaram Raj submitted that his case stemmed from certain statements made by the then Minister in Kerala, which contained disparaging remarks against women, certain employees and labourers.

He said the question that arose was the same: What was the limit of freedom for public functionaries? 

He argued that recurrence of such incidents across the country was indicative of the fact that the issue was of importance and has not yet become academic. 

Appearing in the main matter, the Amicus Curiae supported the submission of the Solicitor General to the extent that there cannot be blanket guidelines on restrictions and it has to be developed on a case-to-case basis, considering facts of each case.


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