SHREYA SINGHAL V. UNION OF INDIA

PARTIES OF THE CASE

PETITIONER: Shreya Singhal• RESPONDENT: Union of India

CITATION: AIR 2015 SC 1523

BENCH: J. Chelameswar, J. Rohinton Fali Nariman

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

A writ petition was filed under Article 32 of the Constitution of India stating that the police have misused their power under Section 66A of Information Technology Act, 2000 (IT Act) inter alia, it violates the freedom of speech and expression in various instances. In the present case, two women were arrested for questioning the shutdown of Mumbai after the death of Shiv Sena chief, Bal Thackeray by the Mumbai police by invoking Section 66A. The women posted their comments on Facebook. Later, the arrested women were released and it was decided to close the criminal cases against them. However, such arrests had already attracted widespread public protest.

ISSUES

Whether Section 66A and 69A of the IT Act is constitutionally valid? Whether Section 66A of the IT Act is violative of the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution?

JUDGMENT, REASONING AND ITS ANALYSIS

The Apex Court struck down Section 66A of the IT Act, stating that its ban on statements that could cause ‘annoyance, inconvenience, enmity, hatred or ill will’ was unconstitutional.

The Court found that the comment did not amount to any incitement and the alleged act does not come under any offence. In this case, a positive use of the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression was provided by the Indian Constitution.

The Court observed that the expressions used in Section 66A of the IT Act is completely ‘open-ended’, ‘undefined’ and it is not covered under Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution. Section 66A had no direct connection with causing disturbance to public order or incitement to commit an offense. It was hence struck down in its entirety by the Court because it violates the right of freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by Articles 19(1)(a) and 19(2). The perspective adopted by the Court was to protect the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression and in no way the legislation can take away this right, by claiming cover under Article 19(2) of the Constitution. Moreover, the Court applied the rule of severability that struck down only those sections which were vague and arbitrary. It was observed that the whole legislation need not be held invalid.

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