Judicial Inconsistency in Personal Liberty Cases – UPSC GS2

Context: The recent rulings of the judiciary have defended the personal liberty of citizens. However, there are many instances where the judiciary failed to uphold liberty.
Rulings which favoured Personal Liberty:
The following rulings highlight the role of judiciary as the first line of defence against the deprivation of the liberty of citizens.
  • Priya Ramani case:  Delhi high court acquitted her against the charges of criminal defamation. Court made the following significant directives.
    • A woman’s right to dignity supersedes the right to reputation.
    • Survivors of sexual harassment are free to place their grievances at any point in time after the incident. They are free to choose any platform or time as per their comfort.
  • Disha Ravi’s‘ tool kit conspiracy case’ : High court has granted anticipatory bail to Disha Ravi. It further observed that in a democracy, the right to dissent is a fundamental right.
  • Judiciary in many earlier judgments has acted against the arbitrary use of Sedition laws. It has stated that free speech can be criminalized only when it is resulting in Public disorder. For instance,
    • In Arnab Manoranjan Goswami vs State of Maharashtra, the Court warned against the use of the criminal law as “a ruse for targeted harassment”.
Judgements where judiciary ruled against personal liberty?
  • Tandav case :
    • Court has denied anticipatory bail to Ms. Purohit, (head of Amazon Prime Video’s India Originals.)
    • High court allowed the interrogation in custody. It was for running a show (Tandav) that was “bound to hurt the sentiments of the majority community”.
    • In doing so, the court upheld that religious beliefs are more important than free speech.
  • Court has shown unequal attitude towards ‘haves and have-nots’.
    • For example, in Arnab Goswami case, the court granted quick bail by stating that deprivation of liberty even for a single day is one day too many.
    • However, it has done nothing to protect the life and dignity of thousands of Under trial prisoners. They continue to suffer in jail for many years. Some have even served half of their jail sentences without conviction.
  • Supreme court the guardian of people’s rights failed to quash unconstitutional laws. Rather, It allowed the continuance of these laws irrespective of their poor record in protecting personal liberty. For example, Sedition, Defamation laws etc. (Justification for this statement given below)
    • Criminal defamation has imposed a chilling effect on  legitimate speech. Every democratic nation of the world has decriminalized defamation. But in India, it remains a tool to harass dissenters.
    • Sedition laws are colonial remnants. The offence of sedition continues to be weaponized to restrict dissent against government. For example, journalists involved in Hathras rape case and Bhima Koregaon case booked under sedition.

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