In the Kerala High Court Civil Revision No: 10 of 1913 Citation: AIR 1993 Ker 1 Appellants: P.A. Jacob Respondents: The Superintendent of Police Decided on: July 27th, 1992 Bench: Justice Chettur Sankaran Nair
This 1992 case dealt with fundamental rights of speech and expression intricately and at length. The petitioner was stopped from using a loudspeaker at a religious congregation by the withdrawal of approval by the Sub-inspector of Police, and the petitioner alleged violation of his freedom of speech and expression. The Court had to deal with the chapter on fundamental rights intricately and point out the reasonable restrictions any right is subjected to.
Facts of the case:
- P.A. Jacob, the petitioner, belonged to a denomination of Christianity, known as the ‘Knanaya’ Christians. He sought permission to hold meetings using sound amplifiers to propagate his religious views.
- The second respondent – the Sub-Inspector of Police, granted permission to do so but withdrew the permission later, apprehending that views of the petitioner may incite to violence the conservatives in the Church.
- In reality, though, this apprehension was proved wrong, as the meeting could be held pursuant to interim orders of this Court without any disturbance.
Case presented by the Petitioners:
- The petitioner based his case on the fact that his right to free speech and expression was being violated as he was being prevented from expressing his views through a loudspeaker. The petitioner submitted that freedom of speech and expression implies freedom to use amplifying devices and cited the decision of the Gujarat High Court in the case of Indulal v. State, AIR 1963 Guj 259 (1963 (2) Cri LJ 502) in support of his contention.
- In the aforementioned case, the Gujarat High Court had relied on the opinion of the Judicial Committee in Francis v. Chief of Police, (1973) 2 AER 251 to hold that freedom of speech included the freedom to express and circulate one’s views, in any manner.
- The revered justice too agreed with the case for the right of speech and expression as presented in Francis’ case.
Case presented by the Respondents:
- It was opined by the revered justice that there are frontiers even to freedoms. Liberty is not the right to perpetuate licentiousness. Free speech does not protect sedition, libel, or obscenity, etc.
- It does not sanction intrusion into the rights of others. To be let alone, is as much freedom, as is the freedom to be heard. Right to silence or solitude, is as much a right, as the right to expression is.
- The fact that the right of free speech is not absolute and has its frontiers have been validated by the Supreme Court in various cases, namely Romesh Thappar v. The State of Madras, Indian Express Newspapers Pvt. Ltd. v. Union of India, etc.
- It was further opined that the right to speech implies, the right to silence too. It implies freedom to not listen, and no one could be forced to listen.
- Justice Douglas articulated this freedom through a speech as: “right to be let alone is the beginning of all freedoms. When we force people to listen to another’s ideas, we give the propagandist a powerful weapon. One man’s lyric may be another’s vulgarity.”
- J.S. Mill once said that, “Liberty of an individual must be thus far limited — he must not make himself a nuisance to others.”
- Therefore there were several conspicuous negatives associated with allowing the use of a loudspeaker.
The revered Justice C.S. Nair said that “With great respect, I find it difficult to agree with the view of the Gujarat High Court in Indulal v. State, that freedom of speech includes freedom to use sound amplifiers. In Francis v. Chief of Police, relied on by the Gujarat High Court to deliver the verdict, Pearson L.J. had pointed out that: “Some regulation of the use of loudspeaker is required in order that citizens who do not wish to hear what is being said may be protected.” Therefore there were grounds to not rely blindly on the verdict of the case of Francis v. Chief of Police as jurists had had reservations about that verdict too. Justice Nair referred to US cases too. The use of loudspeakers was not considered in the purview of free speech and expression by the First Amendment of the US Constitution. The same view was reiterated in Lehman v. City of Shaker Heights, a US case, where it was opined that though the petitioner had a right to express his views to those who wish to listen, he had no right to force his message upon an audience incapable of declining to receive it. That apart, the freedom guaranteed is freedom of expression of ideas, not freedom of modes of expression. A loudspeaker is a mechanical device, and it has no mind or thought process in it and therefore is not human. The right of speech or expression is a right accorded to a human faculty. A right belongs to human personality, and not to a mechanical device. Further, it was stated that Article 21 guarantees freedom from tormenting sounds. What is negatively the right to be let alone, is positively the right to be free from noise. Therefore the petitioner was prevented from using loudspeakers.
But the Court did not condone the wrongful act of the Superintendent of Police. It was stated that if the Police, charged with the power to regulate the use of loudspeakers under the Kerala Police Act, acts beyond the authority law confers upon him, it would be liable to be interdicted. The permission was denied to the petitioner to use a loudspeaker on the ground that holding meetings with loudspeakers would lead to a law and order situation. This reason appeared to be an after-thought, and for a fact, the hazards imagined by the Sub-Inspector of Police were indeed unreal.
The final verdict was passed stating that in the absence of any valid ground, cancellation of the permission granted to the petitioner was arbitrary. While the petitioner had no fundamental right to use a loudspeaker, he was indeed free to avail amenity of using a loudspeaker in a reasonable manner. The Sub-Inspector of Police had to permit the petitioner to hold meetings with the use of loudspeakers of a box type, for purposes of holding meetings as in which the output from the loudspeaker did not exceed the range necessary to reach a willing audience, confined in a reasonable area.
It can be concluded, therefore, that no fundamental right is absolute, and the exercise of one’s rights cannot infringe upon the rights of another. The Court in this case checked the misuse of power at the hands of the Police, as well as reiterated the validity and restrictions on the Fundamental Rights.
- P.A. Jacob v. Superintendent of Police, 1992 AIR 1993 Ker 1