|Introduction: Contextual introduction.|
Body: Explain the evolution of the right to free speech.
Conclusion: Write a way forward.
Article 19(1)(a) gives citizens the right to freedom of speech and expression. Article 19(2) enlists certain grounds on the basis of which the state, through a law, can impose reasonable restrictions on this right. These grounds are the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, contempt of court, defamation and incitement to an offence.
Evolution of the right to free speech:
- The Constitution of India Bill, 1895 is the first document that contains such provision. It gave citizens a right to free speech but made citizens ‘answerable for abuses, which they may commit in the exercise of this right, in cases and in the mode the Parliament to determine’.
- Through a series of judgments delivered in the 1960s-80s, SC has read the freedom of the press into Article 19(1) (a). This includes the right to freely publish and circulate information, opinions, as well as advertisements. It has also recognised the right to know as a part of free speech by holding that voters are entitled to receive information about the criminal antecedents of candidates.
- In Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, Court held that reasonable restrictions should be such that others’ rights should not be hindered or affected by the acts of one man. Any speech that can harm a large group of people and their rights need restriction by state.
- Recently the Supreme Court ruled that no further curbs could be imposed on the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression, holding that the existing eight “reasonable” restrictions under Article 19(2) of the Constitution are “exhaustive”.
It can be easily concluded that right to freedom of speech and expression is one of the most important fundamental rights.