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Proper to freedom of speech and expression will prevail in opposition to the Proper to privateness

Right to freedom of speech and expression will prevail against the Right to privacy written by Surya Sunilkumar student of Ramaiah institute of legal studies

R. Rajagopal and Ors. Vs. State of Tamil Nadu and Ors. (1995)

Abstract

The Indian constitution guarantees fundamental rights that are justiciable upon infringement. Article 19 and Article 21 of the Constitution are important rights, they are the Right to Freedom of speech and expression and the Right to life and personal liberty. Under the provision of Article 21 Right to Privacy is enshrined. R. Rajagopal and Ors. Vs. State of Tamil Nadu and Ors. (Auto Shankar case) is one of the landmark cases which defined the scope of these Articles. Even though we have freedom of speech and expression, Art.19 (2) states that there can be reasonable restrictions. In this case, the Supreme Court of India gave a judgment regarding the powers of govt., application of reasonable restriction, and ambit of Right to Privacy

Facts of the case

A prisoner who was convicted of murder wrote an autobiography which discussed the involvement of senior officials and other government officials in his illegal acts. Meanwhile, he was sentenced to life imprisonment and was going to be hanged later. Before he was hanged he gave his autobiography to his wife with the knowledge of the prison officials. Later to get it published, his wife gave it to the petitioners (publishers) of this case. Before the publication of the book, the Inspector General of Prisons wrote to the publishers with the claim that the autobiography was false, that publication was against prison rules, and threatened legal action if they proceeded with publishing. The reason given by the prison authority for such an act was that the content of the book was defamatory.

Arguments of the parties

The arguments made by the petitioners were as follows:
• Right to freedom and expression is guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. Article 19(2) states as” …..in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub-clause in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or concerning contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offense.”. The autobiography that had to be published did not violate any of these sub-clauses.
• Auto Shankar being a citizen of India had Rights to publish his own book as it is a Fundamental Right.
• The book was given with the knowledge of the prison officials.
• Right to Freedom and expression has more power than Right to privacy, as it is a part of the Right to life and personal liberty unlike freedom of speech and expression which is a fundamental right in itself.
• The authorities had tortured by using the third-degree method on Auto Shankar (Gouri Shankar) to deny his authorship of the book before he was hanged.
• There was no defamation as truth is considered to be a defense in defamation.

Contentions made by the Respondents were:

• There was no proof as to whether the book was written by the convict because he was hanged to death before any confirmation on this matter could be made. There is a possibility that the publishers may have modified it.
• There is no proof that the book was given to the wife of Auto Shankar with the knowledge and authorization of Prison officials.
• The information given in that book is defamatory and untrue as there is no evidence to prove the events of involvement of government and public officials in his illegal activities.
• The respondents denied torturing the prisoner using the third-degree method.

Judgment

  1. The court considered the Right of Privacy, as there might be defamatory statements that would affect the reputation of the officials. But it cannot stop the petitioners from publication until and unless the respondents have the proof to state otherwise. The respondents can file a case under defamation and claim for damages after proving their innocence.
  2. No prior prohibition can be made by the authority even before the publication of the autobiography. The court held this aforesaid statement referring to an international case New York Times v. the United States.
  3. It was held by the Supreme Court that Auto Shankar had the right to get his autobiography published as there was no malicious intention and the publication was not in violation of any provision.

Conclusion

This case has established the scope and application of Art.19(2) and the Right to Privacy. It clearly stated that the Right to freedom of speech and expression will prevail against the Right to privacy as it is the basic right. The petitioners of the case got full authority to publish the book without any changes and the State cannot prohibit, thus the right of the petitioners sustained.

[1] https://indiankanoon.org/doc/493243/ (last vivsted 30th October 2020)

[2] (1971) 403 US 713

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