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Free Speech Not an Absolute Right: SC on Criminal Defamation Plea

Petitioners had challenged the constitutional validity of IPC Sections 499 & 500 providing for criminal defamation.

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The Supreme Court of India. (Photo: Reuters)

The Supreme Court dismissed the batch of petitions against criminal defamation, upholding it as a criminal offence under the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The apex court said,

Freedom of right to speech and expression does not confer any right to a person to trample reputation of others.
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The apex court bench of Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Prafulla C Pant, while upholding the relevant sections of the Criminal Procedure Code, said defamation doesn’t have any “chilling effect on freedom of speech”.

“It is not necessary for all in the chorus to sing the same song,” Justice Misra said, pronouncing the judgment.

The petitions were filed by Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, challenging the constitutional validity of Sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code providing for criminal defamation.

The petitioners had argued that the criminal defamation under these sections of the IPC travelled beyond constitution’s Article 19(2) which imposes reasonable restriction on the freedom of speech and expression.

The apex court, however, stressed on the need for “magistrates to observe extreme caution while issuing summons in private defamation complaints.”

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