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SC begins examining issue on curtailing free speech

A five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court was hearing the plea whether the fundamental right to free speech can be curtailed on sensitive matters under probe.

Statesman News Service | New Delhi |

On the second day of the hearing, senior advocate Harsh Salve told the Supreme Court that ministers or those holding high office should exercise restraint while making statements in the public domain.

A five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court was hearing the plea whether the fundamental right to free speech can be curtailed on sensitive matters under probe.

On 5 October 2017, the three-judge bench of the top court had referred the matter to the Constitution bench to decide issues related to freedom of speech while expressing views in sensitive matters.

The issue cropped up after former Uttar Pradesh Minister Azam Khan made a controversial comment that the gruesome Bulandshahr gang-rape in 2016, was part of a “political conspiracy”, though later he apologised before the top court.

The family, aggrieved by this statement, moved the top court in 2017 alleging these comments have prejudiced the case, which was later transferred to the CBI.

The five-judge bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra, Indira Banerjee, Vineet Saran, MR Shah and S Ravindra Bhat will deal with the question whether restrictions provided under the Constitution can be extended and to what level.

The apex court had appointed two senior advocates ~ Salve and Fali Nariman ~ to assist it as amici curiae to examine whether elected representatives and politicians can be restrained from making statements on pending criminal matters and, if they do, would it be tantamount to curbing the fundamental right of free speech.

Venugopal had posed important questions before the bench, including “Should ministers in position of power restrict their right to free speech, especially in a sensitive trial?”, and “Can restriction be introduced on people holding high positions?”