Free speech versus dignity
New Delhi: The Supreme Court today decided to refer to a five-judge Constitution bench the question whether the right to free speech and expression includes "the right to insult another person's right to dignity".
A bench of Justices Dipak Misra, A.M. Khanwilkar and M. Shantanagoudar asked senior advocates Harish Salve and Fali Nariman, assisting the court as amicus curiae, and a counsel for former Uttar Pradesh minister Azam Khan to formulate appropriate questions for reference to the constitution bench.
The apex court was dealing with a petition filed by a man, whose wife and teenaged daughter were gang-raped by eight persons in Bulandshahr in July last year, for transfer of the trial to Delhi from Uttar Pradesh as Khan, who was a minister in the erstwhile Akhilesh Yadav government, had rubbished the claim of the victims as a "political conspiracy".
According to the aggrieved husband, the Samajwadi Party leader's comments had prejudiced the case against the prosecution and the victims and he feared the family would not get a fair trial.
The mother and her minor daughter were brutalised on July 30 shortly after the car they were travelling in with other family members was waylaid on a national highway late in the night. Their tormentors, a gang of eight robbers, allowed them to go after assaulting them for several hours.
Khan had subsequently tendered an apology in the Supreme Court for his comments.
During the last hearing, attorney-general Mukul Rohatgi had told the bench that a politician could not be prosecuted for airing his personal views as there could not be a moral code of conduct that could be enforced in such cases.
Rohatgi's views were countered today by Salve, who said such comments by a minister while being in office affected the right to life and dignity of a victim.
He said: "The assumption that such derogatory statements may come within the meaning of 'free speech' is wrong as both rights must coexist. As gender justice is part of the dignity of a woman, any speech that violates her right is a violation of Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution."
Articles 14 relates to the right to equality, and Article 21 refers to life and liberty.
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