Should persons occupying high public offices be careful about what they say? Yes. Is the “high public office” limited to Ministers and MP/MLAs or also people in the bureaucracy and judiciary? Should not be so.

 

The Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court is examining whether the right of free speech can be restricted for persons occupying high public offices. The case arose after the then Minister in Uttar Pradesh government Azam Khan had commented on a rape case.

 

Personally, this issue seems to be a nonstarter because Article 19 grants right of free speech to everyone with some restrictions. So whenever a person speaks anything, the speech is either covered under Article 19 (1), or is subject to exceptions mentioned in Article 19(2). That is, either the speech is allowed, or it is actionable under relevant criminal and civil laws. For example, a speech revealing a plan to murder may constitute conspiracy. A speech regarding someone’s character may constitute defamation. The overall point being, law allows no one to make loose statements. Nevertheless, lengthy issues are being framed before the Constitution bench, which is expected to hear the matter in detail.

 

The mere reference of this matter before the Constitution Bench infers that high functionaries should exercise caution while making statements. Recently, during the proceedings seeking recusal of Justice Arun Mishra from the Land Acquisition matters, it was said that there are powerful lobbies which write articles before hearing of a matter. These powerful lobbies want to get the bench of their choice and influence the final outcome.

 

Now, independence of judiciary is a very important thing and any attempt to vitiate it surely constitutes a crime. A crime needs thorough investigation, which should result in a conviction. If indeed there are powerful lobbies, which can have a bearing on the most powerful court in the world, this matter needs to be looked into. Investigation of the highest order in a most transparent matter is required as this relates to the core of our democratic principles. In case no such lobbies exist, shouldn’t the judges have been more circumspect while saying what they said?

 

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