No FIRs to be launched on basis of amendment brought to Police Act: Kerala govt to HC

The government has put on hold the amendment as the law triggered a political storm across the country
Last Updated 24 November 2020, 11:45 IST

The Kerala government on Tuesday assured the High Court here that no FIRs would be launched on the basis of the amendment brought to the Police Act, which has triggered a political storm across the country. The government gave the assurance while a division bench, comprising Chief Justice S Manikumar and Justice Shaji P Chaly was considering a batch of petitions, challenging the constitutional validity of an amendment to the Police Act brought by the state's ruling CPI(M)-led LDF government.

"No coercive action will be taken on the basis of the newly inserted Section 118A in the Kerala Police Act, 2011, which has been put on hold," the Additional Advocate General informed the court. When the court pointed out that the ordinance has been issued, the government assured that no FIRs would be launched on the basis of the newly incorporated amendment. The court recorded the government submission and adjourned the matter for Wednesday for consideration.

The amendment made it mandatory for providing for up to five years jail term to those making defamatory social media posts. BJP Kerala state unit chief K Surendran and RSP leader Shibu Baby John on Monday filed separate pleas in the High Court, challenging the constitutional validity of the amendment In his plea, Surendran sought to declare the newly inserted Section 118A as unconstitutional, void and inoperative and to strike down the same. He submitted that the new provisions "curtails the freedom of speech and expression conferred under the Constitution of India".

Noting that even positive criticism or opinion of expression could be interpreted to be an offence under the provision, he alleged that "this is against the basic principle of the criminal justice system. In their Public Interest Litigations, RSP leaders Shibu Baby John, N K Premachandran and A A Azeez sought to declare Section 118A as unconstitutional since it is "violative of Articles 14, 19 (1) (a) and 21 of the Constitution of India."

They submitted that Section 118A suffers from inherent and incurable vagueness. Noting that expressions like "humiliating", "threatening" and "abusing" are not defined, they submitted that leaving such expressions to the subjective interpretation of individuals meant that even diligent and conscientious citizens cannot know with certainty whether their acts of expressions could run afoul of Section 118A.

They submitted that offences under the section have been made cognizable. So the subjective personal views and unguided interpretation by individual police officials, who are not trained to exercise judicial functions on whether a particular act constitutes an offence under Section 118A or not would decide whether serious consequences such as arrest follow. Besides Surendran and Shibu Baby John, the court also received a batch of petitions challenging the controversial amendment to the Police Act.

(Published 24 November 2020, 11:45 IST)

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