Additional restrictions can’t be imposed on freedom of speech of MP/MLAs: Supreme Court

Justice B V Nagarathna, who was also part of the bench, wrote a separate judgement and said freedom of speech and expression is a much-needed right.
A view of the Supreme Court in New Delhi. (File Photo)
A view of the Supreme Court in New Delhi. (File Photo)

NEW DELHI: Supreme Court constitution bench on Tuesday ruled that no additional restrictions can be imposed on freedom of speech on MPs & MLAs except those mentioned under Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India which lays down reasonable restrictions on the said right. 

However the bench dissented on the aspect of statement made by minister to be traceable to affairs to government. Majority comprising Justices S Abdul Nazeer, BR Gavai, AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian ruled that statement made by a Minister cannot be attributed vicariously to the government. 

“Statement made by minister even if traceable to anything affairs of the state or for protecting the govt cannot be attributed vicariously to the govt by invoking the principle of collective responsibility,” the majority ruled. 

However differing from majority, Justice BV Nagarathna ruled that statements made by minister traceable to affairs of govt are vicariously attributable to the government. “Statement made by minister in personal capacity is not vicariously attributable to govt but it is if it is made in official cap & as delegate to govt, are disparaging & represents not only personal view of min making them but also embodies govt’s view,” she said. 

The dissent was also with regards to enforcement of articles 19 and 21 against private persons. While the majority ruled that fundamental rights can be enforced even against persons other than against state or its instrumentalities, Justice Nagarathna ruled that the same can’t be enforced except in habeas corpus cases. 

Justice BV Nagarathna in her separate ruling also added that it is for Parliament to enact legislation to restrain citizens and pub functionaries in particular for making disparaging remarks on fellow citizens. Its for Political parties to regulate & control speech of their members which can be done by code of conduct.

On hate speech she said, “Hate speech strikes at the foundational values of the Constitution by marking out a society as being unequal. It also violates the fraternity of citizens from diverse backgrounds, which is the sine qua non of a cohesive society based on plurality and multiculturalism such as in India that is Bharat.” She also added that public functionaries and other persons of influence and celebrities, having regard to their reach and their impact on the public or a certain section are duty-bound to be more responsible and restrained in their speech.

“They are required to understand and measure their words having regard to the likely consequences on public sentiment and behaviour and also be aware of the example they are setting on the fellow citizens to follow,” she added. 

Court’s ruling were while considering pleas which raised issue of whether restrictions can be imposed on a public functionary's right to freedom of speech and expression. The court also reserved its verdict on whether it can lay down additional guidelines for imposing restrictions against disparaging and controversial statements made by public functionaries including ministers.

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