Freedom of Speech – Defamation, Sedition, etc.

On Section 124A Supreme Court has aligned itself with the collective conscience

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- The SC aligning with collective conscience of India

Context

The Supreme Court’s seminal intervention in a batch of petitions challenging the constitutional validity of section 124A of the Indian Penal Code is a watershed moment in the progressive expansion of human rights jurisprudence.

Abuse of sedition law

  • The slapping of sedition charges against political opponents and others in Maharashtra, Punjab, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have confirmed that the abuse of the sedition law is no longer an aberration.
  • It has become a norm that has hollowed out the constitutional guarantee of fundamental rights and exposed individuals to the rigour of draconian laws unjustly invoked, outraging national sensitivities as never before.

Significance of the move

  • In what is seen as a first in judicial history, the Supreme Court has virtually rendered redundant the provision of a criminal law without expressly declaring it as unconstitutional.
  • In an example of judicial statecraft, the court has shielded individuals against a harsh law without trenching on Parliament’s legislative remit or the executive’s command over policy decisions.
  • Plenary jurisdiction: Exercising plenary jurisdiction, the Supreme Court is expected to see through its suggestions/orders to the government, particularly when these concern the non-negotiable fundamental rights of citizens.
  • Suggestive jurisdiction: As an organ of the state, the Supreme Court’s suggestive jurisdiction is clearly in accord with its declared law (Nagaraj, 2006) that the state (of which the court is an integral constituent), is under a duty not only to protect individual rights but is also obliged to facilitate the same.
  • Validating the nations role: The court-inspired initiatives would also validate the nation’s preeminent role in the shaping of a new world order.

Implications of the law

  • Nudging the government towards anti-lynching law: As with the sedition law, it can nudge the government to enact an anti-lynching humanitarian law as suggested by it and a comprehensive law against custodial torture.
  •  Law against custodial torture: The absence of an anti-custodial torture law, a glaring gap in the architecture of the criminal justice system, is inexplicable considering the command of Article 21, recommendations of the Select Committee of Rajya Sabha (2010), the Law Commission of India (2017) and the Human Rights Commission and the judgments of the Supreme Court (Puttaswamy, 2017; Jeeja Ghosh, 2016; and Shabnam, 2015).
  • Implications for the UAPA: It is expected likewise from the court to intervene suitably and read down the UAPA and other criminal laws that have been repeatedly misused to trample upon the civil liberties and rights of the people.

Conclusion

This is indeed the moment to seize, as the government reviews the nation’s legal structures. The initiatives suggested above are in aid of democracy anchored in the inviolability of human rights and would enhance India’s soft power in our engagement with the international community.

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