Case Name: Brij Bhushan Sharma vs State of Delhi, 1950
Equivalent Citation: (1950) SCR 605
Date of Judgment: 5th December 1950
Case No.: Criminal Appeal No. 64 of 1949
Case Type: Criminal Appeal before Supreme Court
Petitioner: Brij Bhushan and Another
Respondent: The State of Delhi
Bench/Judge: Chief Justice Sir Saiyid Fazl Ali and Justices M. Patanjali Sastri, Mehr Chand Mahajan, B.K. Mukherjea and S.R. Das.
The case of Brij Bhushan vs State of Delhi, 1950, holds great significance as it established a crucial legal precedent in India. It affirmed that freedom of speech and expression is a fundamental right within the Indian Constitution and the state cannot suppress it unless there is a clear and immediate threat to public order or the incitement of violence.
Brij Bhushan Sharma, a journalist and the editor of the newspaper “Swatantra Bharat,” came under scrutiny in 1949.
He published an article in his newspaper that critiqued the policies of the Indian government and the conduct of specific public officials.
The authorities considered this article seditious under the Indian Penal Code and charged Sharma with the offence of sedition.
Sharma, in his defence, challenged the constitutionality of the sedition law, asserting that it violated his fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression, which is safeguarded by the Indian Constitution.
The case was presented before a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court of India, which closely examined the constitutionality of the sedition law and the boundaries of the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression.
The issues raised in Brij Bhushan vs State of Delhi were:
- Whether the articles published by Brij Bhushan Sharma were an exercise of his fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression?
- Whether the detention of the petitioner violate his fundamental rights under Article 19(1)(a) and Article 21 of the Constitution?
- Whether the detention order was arbitrary and unreasonable?
- Whether the petitioner was given a reasonable opportunity to make a representation against the detention order?
- The petitioner’s primary argument in Brij Bhushan vs State of Delhi was that the articles published by Brij Bhushan Sharma were an exercise of his fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression, as guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India.
- The petitioner asserted that his detention was unconstitutional as it infringed upon his fundamental rights under Article 19(1)(a) and Article 21 (Right to life and personal liberty) of the Constitution.
- The petitioner contended that the detention order was arbitrary and unreasonable, lacking sufficient evidence or material on record to justify the detention.
- The petitioner further claimed in Brij Bhushan v State of Delhi that he was not provided a reasonable opportunity to make a representation against the detention order, which violated the principles of natural justice.
- The respondent argued in Brij Bhushan vs State of Delhi that the order passed by the trial judge under Section 3 of the Official Secrets Act was justified because it was deemed necessary to maintain the security and integrity of the state.
- The prosecution contended that there was substantial evidence to prove that Brij Bhushan Sharma, the journalist, had access to classified information and had published it in his newspaper.
- The respondent maintained that they had acted in accordance with the law and had not violated any fundamental rights of the petitioner.
- The respondent emphasised that the petitioner’s freedom of speech and expression was subject to reasonable restrictions under Article 19(2) of the Constitution.
- The respondent argued that the Official Secrets Act was a valid piece of legislation enacted in the interest of the security of the state.
- The respondent asserted in Brij Bhushan versus State of Delhi that the petitioner had failed to establish any malice on their part.
- The respondent contended that the petitioner had not provided evidence to prove that the order passed by the trial judge was motivated by extraneous considerations.
- The respondent claimed that they had acted fairly and impartially throughout the proceedings.
Constitution of India, Article 19, clauses (1)(a) and (2) – Fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression – Legislation imposing prior restraint on newspapers to ensure public safety and prevent public disorder – Legitimacy – Content with the potential to disrupt public safety or incite public disorder, whether it “undermines the stability of, or has a tendency to overthrow, the State” – Interpretation of Article 19, clause (2) – Validity of Section 7(1)(c) of the East Punjab Public Safety Act, 1949.
Held by Chief Justice KANIA, along with Justices PATANJALI SASTRI, MEHR CHAND MAHAJAN, MUKHERJEA and DAS, with Justice FAZL ALI in dissent:
The court concluded that Section 7(1)(c) authorised the imposition of restrictions on the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression as guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. These restrictions were imposed for the purpose of preventing activities that could be detrimental to public safety and the maintenance of public order. As such, it did not constitute a law pertaining to “a matter which undermines the security of or tends to overthrow the State” within the scope of the exceptions provided in Clause (2) of Article 19. Consequently, Section 7(1)(c) was deemed unconstitutional and void in Brij Bhushan vs State of Delhi.
This decision was in line with the precedent set in the case of Romesh Thappar v. The State ( S.C.R. 594).
Justice FAZL ALI’s dissenting opinion:
Justice FASL ALI dissented, arguing that the term “public safety” had acquired a well-recognized meaning through legislative practice, signifying the safety or security of the State. While “public order” was broad enough to encompass minor disturbances of the peace that did not endanger the security of the State, the Act in question prominently focused on public safety.
The Act was special legislation designed to address special measures and its general aim and scope were centred on the preservation of public safety. In this context, “public order” could be interpreted as “public tranquillity.” Public disorders that disrupted public tranquillity did indeed undermine the security of the State. Therefore, Justice FAZL ALI argued that Section 7(1)(c) fell within the ambit of Article 19(2) of the Constitution in Brij Bhushan v. State of Delhi.
Held by the Full Court in Brij Bhushan vs State of Delhi:
The Supreme Court held in Brij Bhushan vs State of Delhi that imposition of pre-censorship on a journal was considered a restriction on the liberty of the press, which constituted an integral part of the right to freedom of speech and expression, as declared in Article 19(1)(a).
This restriction on press freedom was essential to protect the public interest. The court referred to Blackstone’s Commentaries in support of this viewpoint.
Brij Bhushan vs State of Delhi is a landmark Indian legal case from 1950. The case affirmed the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression in India and set important precedents. Brij Bhushan Sharma, a journalist and editor of “Swatantra Bharat” newspaper, was charged with sedition for publishing an article critical of the government. The Supreme Court of India, in a five-judge bench, examined the constitutionality of the sedition law and the scope of freedom of speech and expression.
It held in Brij Bhushan vs State of Delhi that restrictions on this fundamental right must only be imposed if there’s a clear and present danger to public order or incitement of violence. Consequently, Brij Bhushan Sharma’s detention was deemed unconstitutional, emphasising the importance of safeguarding free speech in India’s democratic framework. This case remains a cornerstone in protecting freedom of expression in India.
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