SC examines if free speech can be curtailed on probe

Last Updated 23 October 2019, 17:27 IST

A five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court on Wednesday started considering whether the fundamental right to free speech can be curtailed on sensitive matters under investigation if it affects other individuals' right to a dignified life.

The bench, presided over by Justice Arun Mishra, said that it would go into all the questions referred to it by a 3-judge bench in 2017, after the top court had taken note of a controversial statement of ex-Uttar Pradesh minister Azam Khan that the gruesome Bulandshahr gang-rape in 2016, was part of a "political conspiracy".

He had tendered an unconditional apology before the apex court, which was accepted.

The top court had then said that it would go into the larger question on whether a public functionary or a minister claim freedom of speech while expressing his views on matters which are under investigation.

Attorney General K K Venugopal contended on Wednesday that freedom of speech is not absolute and unlike some western countries India has definite and specific exceptions under Article 19(2) of the Constitution.

He told the bench, also comprising Justices Indira Banerjee, Vineet Saran, M R Shah and S Ravindra Bhat, that the question is whether such restrictions provided under the constitution can be extended and to what level.

"Prosecution also has a right and an accused also has a right. Now a days, in media, an accused is convicted even before the judgement comes. Even if their is honourable acquittal, it does not help you," the bench observed.

It said that during the trial, you cannot name the victim or obstruct the investigation but these are all statutory provisions or judicial laws.

"If we put more restrictions, can it be enforced as these restrictions cannot be vague," the bench wondered.

Venugopal said other than restrictions under Article 19 (2) of the Constitution there is no exceptions and if more conditions are added, then it can be done through a law.

(Published 23 October 2019, 15:28 IST)

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