Dated- 24th March, 2015
Supreme Court of India.
Citation of the case- Writ Petition (2013) 12 S.C.C. 73
Parties of the case- Shreya Singhal is the Petitioner. Supreme Court is the Respondent.
Statement of the case- The Petitioner argued that Section 66A was unconstitutional because its planned protection against inconvenience, danger, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, is outside the purview of Article 19(2). They also argued that the law was unconstitutionally unclear as it fails to specifically define its prohibitions. She further contended that the law has a “chilling effect” on the right to freedom of expression.
History- In November, 2012, a 21-year-old girl, Shaheen Dhada, from Palghar in Maharashtra, updated a Facebook status. The post stated that Mumbai had shut down in fear and not out of respect for the funeral procession of Bal Thackeray, Shiv Sena founder. Rini Srinivasan liked the status posted by Shaheen. Both the girls were arrested within a few hours. Shaheen was charged under the Indian Penal Code Section 295A and the notorious Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000. The arrested girls were released later and it was decided that the criminal cases against them would be dropped. It was presumed that the police abused their authority by invoking Section 66A at the same time as it constitutes a violation of the fundamental right of speech and expression.
- The Petitioner in front of the Hon’ble Court stated that Section 66A excludes the freedom of speech and expression granted under Article 19(1)(a) and is not safeguarded by the reasonable limit referred to in Article 19(2).
- It is outside the reach of Article 19(2)(c) to cause annoyance, discomfort, etc.
- Section 66A pursues to create an offense but has susceptibility and vice of vagueness as the terminology used is not clearly defined. The terminology used is subjective and remains open to law enforcement agencies ‘ desire and willingness to interpret it. There’s no limitation.
- Article 14 has been violated because there is no intelligible distinction as to why this provision was addressed only by one means of communication.
- The learned counsel for the Respondent stated that the Legislature is in the toughest position to meet people’s needs, and the Judiciary will only weigh in when a statute is explicitly in violation of Part III and the legislation in dispute is believed to be legal.
- In this way, the Court would construe a law to make it practical, and in doing so, it would be able to read or read the laws.
- Only the probability of violence cannot justify making a rule null.
- Slack Language is used to defend people’s rights from those who use this medium to threaten them.
- Indistinctness is not a reason to declare unconstitutional a law if it is actually eligible and unarbitrary.
Judge- It is a two-bench judgement. The judges are J. Chelameswar, Rohinton Fali Nariman.
Judgement- The Court mentioned three fundamental notions in understanding the freedom of expression: discussion, advocacy, and incitement. The Court stated that Section 66A is capable of limiting all forms of internet communications.
The Court further held that the law fails to create a clear adjacent relation to the protection of public order. According to the Court, the commission of an offense under Section 66A is complete by sending a message for the purpose of causing annoyance or insult. As a result, the law does not make distinction between mass dissemination to only one person without requiring the message to have a clear tendency of unsettling public order.
In terms of Section 66A, whether it was a valid attempt to protect individuals from defamatory statements through online communications, the Court stated that the main ingredient of defamation is “damage to reputation.” It was stated that the law does not concern this objective because it also condemns offensive statements that may annoy or be inconvenient to an individual without affecting his reputation. The Court apprehended that the government failed to show that the law intends to prevent communications that provoke the commission of an offense.
As to Petitioners’ challenge of vagueness, the Court found that Section 66A leaves many terms open-ended and undefined, therefore making the Section void for vagueness. The Court also addressed whether Section 66A is capable of imposing chilling effect on the right to freedom of expression. It is stated that because the provision fails to define terms, “a very large amount of protected and innocent speech” could be shortened.
The Court noted the intelligible difference between information transmitted through internet and other forms of speech, which permits the government to create separate offenses related to online communications. The Court rejected the Petitioners’ argument that Section 66A was in violation of Article 14 of the Constitution against discrimination.
The Court declined to address the Petitioners’ challenge of procedural unreasonableness since the law was already declared unconstitutional on functional grounds. It also found Section 118(d) of the Kerala Police Act to be unconstitutional as applied to Section 66A.
Conclusion- In simpler language, this landmark judgement pursued to barely define the circumstances in which freedom of speech and expression could lawfully be shortened under India’s Constitution. The Supreme Court recognised that the same level of constitutional analysis would be given to laws which seek to regulate speech online as would be applied to laws regulating more traditional media.
In its judgment, the Supreme Court demonstrates its firm obligation to the specific terms of Article 19(2) under which freedom of speech and expression can be legitimately restricted. In doing so, the Supreme Court highlights the clear differences between Article 19(2) of the Constitution and similar provisions in international human rights treaties. In its judgment the Supreme Court also sustained the constitutionality of section 69A of the Information Technology Act.