New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday will deliver its verdict on whether restrictions can be imposed on the right to freedom of speech and expression of a public functionary.
A five-judge constitution bench, headed by Justice S.A. Nazeer and comprising Justices B.R. Gavai, A.S. Bopanna, V. Ramasubramanian, and B.V. Nagarathna, would deliver the verdict.
According to the cause list uploaded on the top court’s website, two separate judgments will be pronounced by Justice Ramasubramanian and Justice Nagarathna. The top court had reserved the judgment in the matter on November 15.
The case originated from a statement made by Azam Khan, then Uttar Pradesh minister, about gang rape case victims.
The top court was hearing a plea filed by a man whose wife and daughter were allegedly gang-raped in July 2016 on a highway near Bulandshahr seeking transfer of the case to Delhi. The plea also sought lodging of a case against Khan in connection with his controversial statement that the gang-rape case was a “political conspiracy”.
The Supreme Court, while reserving the judgment, had observed that there is an unwritten rule that people holding public office must impose self-restriction and ensure they do not make disparaging remarks, and this must be inculcated into the political and civic life.
In October 2017, a three-judge bench referred the matter to the constitution bench to decide various issues, which included whether a public functionary or a minister can claim freedom of speech while expressing views on sensitive matters.
During the hearing in the matter, the bench had queried, is there no constitutional culture in our country that is inherently applicable to those in public office? “There is an unwritten rule that we impose a self-restriction towards making disparaging remarks,” it said, adding that this must be inculcated in our political and civic life.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta contended that the issue is more of an academic question whether a writ can be filed citing Article 21 for action against a particular statement.
Attorney General R. Venkataramani cited the top court’s judgments in Tehseen Poonawalla and Amish Devgan cases and emphasized that sufficient guidelines exist. He added that as a matter of constitutional principle, any additions or modifications of restrictions to fundamental rights have to come from the Parliament.
Justice Nagarathna remarked that the reason why there is no law all this while is because there has always been an inherent self-imposed code on those in public life. She added that now the impression is that such restrictions are being relaxed, leading to hurtful speeches being made and no checks are being made, allowing them to get away, especially those in high office including public servants.