No additional curb on freedom of expression of MPs, MLAs: SC

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday said that no additional restrictions can be imposed on ministers, MPs and MLAs as they too enjoy equal freedom of expression under Article 19(2) of the Constitution.

A five-judge constitution bench headed by Justice SA Nazeer also said that even while applying the principle of collective responsibility, the statement of a minister cannot be attributed “representatively” to the government. In a separate, but concurring judgement, Justice BV Nagaratna said it is the duty of every Indian to ensure dignity and freedom of speech should not be converted into hate speech.

“A statement made by a minister even if it may be traced to any matter of state or defense of the government, cannot be attributed to the government even applying the principle of collective responsibility. Article 19(1) Under (a) the fundamental rights can be exercised against means other than the state also.

Justice Nagaratna agreed that apart from the grounds under Article 19, there cannot be much restriction on free speech. However, he added that such statements can be attributed to the government if a minister makes defamatory statements in his “official capacity”.

The judgment said, “a mere statement by a minister inconsistent with the rights of citizens does not constitute a constitutional tort, but if it leads to an omission or commission of an offense by a public officer, it is a constitutional tort.” “The right to freedom of speech and restriction can be used not only against the state but also against non-state actors”.

“The right can also be exercised against means other than the State. The State is under a duty to affirmatively protect a fundamental right of a citizen, even if the violation is committed by a non-state actor,” the court he said.

The Supreme Court was hearing a petition filed by a man whose wife and daughter were gang-raped on a highway near Bulandshahr in July 2016. He was demanding transfer of the case to Delhi and registration of an FIR against then Uttar Pradesh minister Azam Khan for what he termed the gang rape case a “political conspiracy”.

The judgment came on the question whether the right to freedom of speech and expression of a public official can be restricted. A three-judge bench had on October 5, 2017, referred various issues to the constitution bench for decision, including whether a public functionary or minister can claim freedom of expression while expressing views on sensitive matters .

The Constitution Bench, which had reserved its judgment on November 15, had said that people holding public positions should exercise self-restraint and not say things that are derogatory or derogatory to other people in the country.