Name of the case: R. Rajagopal and Ors. Vs. State of Tamil Nadu and Ors.
Citation: 1995 AIR 264
Judges: B.P. Jeevan Reddy and S.C. Sen, JJ.
For Appellant/Petitioner/Plaintiff: B.D. Sharma,
Adv For Respondents/Defendant: A. Mariarputham and Aruna Mathur, Advs.
The case of R. Rajgopal vs State of Tamil Nadu is a landmark judgment on the freedom of speech and expression and the right to privacy. The decision made in the case was that the State cannot stop an article from getting published just for the reason that it may cause defamation to the State. Prevention like this is an unlawful and unreasonable prior restraint. The State’s only recourse, therefore, would be to sue for defamation after the article has been published. Auto Shankar, a criminal on trial for death penalty writes a biography of his life and hands it over to his wife for publication. The book talks about any instances which may defame many authorities. Thus the state objects to its publication calling it defamatory. When the trail was going on, Shankar got the death penalty and was killed. Thus there was no way to check if he actually had written the book other than the publishers’ and his wife’s words. Also, there was no way to check if those events mentioned in the book had actually happened or not. The state allowed the book’s publication and thus ensured freedom of speech and expression.
Facts of the case·
- A prisoner (Auto Shankar) held for murder wrote an autobiography
- The book discussed his relationship with many senior prison officials, a lot of whom had been his partners in illegal acts.
- At that time, he was going through life imprisonment and was going to be hanged.
- Before his death, he gave the autobiography to his wife, by telling the prison officials.
- The wife then handed it over to the petitioners to publish it.
- Inspector General of Prisons wrote to the publishers with the claim that the autobiography was false, that publication was against prison rules and threatened legal action if they proceeded with publishing.
- The reason why this was done was that the book was said to be defamatory in nature to the staff and prison authorities.
Article 19(1)(a) read with 19(2) guarantees every person the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression with some restrictions.
Right to privacy was not a fundamental right at the time of the case and it is also not a part of exceptions to 9(1)(a) given in 19(2).
Article 19(1)(a) can be implemented even if it violates the ‘Right to privacy’.
Although these two rights are different in nature, it is known that freedom of speech and expression is subject to reasonable restrictions. Violation of any other fundamental right is impliedly a part of the restrictions as per Article 19(2). Hence violation of the right to privacy is part of the restrictions. Therefore in today’s scenario, the case on the side of the State of Tamil Nadu seems to be stronger than that of the plaintiff.
- Whether the state has a right to stop a book from publication because it may infringe their right to privacy?
- Whether freedom of speech and expression can be a reason to violate the right to privacy?
Arguments of the plaintiff
The argument used by the plaintiff party was right to privacy. They believed that the biography if published, would greatly hamper the privacy of the prison authorities. The book gave a good description of various authorities and the publishers had no way to check the information.
Another argument taken up by them was that as per them the information put up in the autobiography was completely false and hence defamatory.
The biggest issue in the case was that there was no proof as to if the biography was really written by Auto Shankar and it was only alleged by the publishers R. Rajgopal and others. By the time this case had gone to trial, Shankar had already got the death penalty and there was no way to confirm if the biography was written was actually by him or had been modified.
Arguments of the defendant
The defendant argued with Section 19(1)(a), right to freedom of speech and expression. Every citizen is guaranteed the freedom to express themselves in any way the like, with certain restrictions, none of which are being violated in this case.
Furthermore, the right to privacy was then not a fundamental right and hence the freedom of speech and expression could overpower it.
They also contested that there was no defamation. This was because the truth is a defence to defamation and they argued that the autobiography was indeed written by Shankar during his time in the prison. This was well observed by the exchange of the book between Shankar and his spouse during his time in prison, had been recorded by the police authorities.
- Article 19(1)(a) read with Article 19(2) on The Constitution of India
- Article 21, Constitution of India
- Sections 499 and 500 of the Indian Penal Code.
- Official Secrets Act, 1923
Application of the Law
- Article 19(1)(a) read with Article 19(2) on The Constitution of India defines the right to freedom of speech and expression subject to certain restrictions.
- Article 21 defines the right to life and personal liberty. As per the court, this was also to imply the inclusion of the right to privacy.
- Section 499 and 500 of The Indian Penal Code talk about defamation.
In the judgement, the question that arose was if the freedom of speech and expression violates the right to privacy or cause defamation or reveal any official secrets of the state.
Reasoning adopted by the Court
- Supreme Court Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy noted that Shankar, his wife and lawyer were not parties to this petition. “We do not have their version… whether Shankar has indeed written his autobiography and/or…requested or authorized the petitioners to publish the same…” the judge noted, declaring he would proceed on the assumption that Shankar hadn’t written the autobiography nor authorized its publication. “We must, however, make it clear that ours is only an assumption for the purpose of this writ petition and not a finding of fact,” he clarified. Thus it was important to note that there was no clarification or proof. The court had said that it was important to know whether actually the biography was actually written by Gauri Shankar or not.
- Right to privacy was not enumerated as a fundamental right in our Constitution but has been inferred from Article 21. So the book is told to have talked about various prison authorities is a defamatory sense (although maybe true).
- However, there is no law empowering the State or its officials to prohibit or to impose a prior restraint upon the press/media.
- Every person has a right to privacy and it is immoral and illegal to defame a person based on the observations of a single person whose opinions may have in biased. Thus even though the act of public officials is public service they must be entitled to such right of privacy with respect to their official duties equal to all other people.
- It is also very important to note that every person has the right to get his autobiography published because every person has a fundamental right to speech and expression according to Sec 19(1) of the Constitution of India.
- Sec 19 (2) imposes ‘reasonable restrictions on the right to speech and expression thus it is important to consider that any information which could not be checked of being true or not should not be published. In the case there was no proof that the book was actually written by Gauri Shankar hence this book must not have been published.
- The state cannot prevent the publication as there are no laws to stop publication of potentially defamatory articles. However, the plaintiffs can always sue after such articles are published.
The case stated a discussed on the right to privacy thus aiding the process of it becoming a fundamental right. As per this case, the right to privacy is implied part of Art 21. It is somewhat a right to be left alone. Every person has can thus be allowed to try to safeguard their privacy and that of their family.
The court had reorganised that there was no explicit right to privacy but discussed that there are some aspects of this right in the constitution.
The judges held that the book could be published by the publishers even without the authorization of Shankar or authorities as much as appears in public records. They could not publish anything which is secret information, they could be held to violate the ‘right to privacy and be punished. The state cannot stop the publication but have every right to seek remedy if the above clause is harmed.
In the discussed case, Shankar had the freedom to get his biography published because it was not made will any mala fide intention and did not include anything false. The publication was only done up to the extent that there was no violation of any official secrets.
Right to privacy, in 2018 is a well-discussed concept. However, in the year of 1995, it was not very well-acknowledged in case laws or legislations. Privacy was not a fundamental right then and hence this case acknowledged it. This was very important for this principle to develop.
Thus the Supreme Court dealt with a conflict between the freedom of the press and the right to privacy and held that the latter had acquired a Constitutional status.
In the judgement, later the autobiography was published as it was, without any changes.
The court had not paid much attention to the fact of what might happen if the autobiography was released and may cause defamation to the plaintiff. Though they may be sued later but much damage would have already been caused.
The court had completely ignored the issue of whether the book was actually been written by Shankar or not; Whether or not it was bona fide and actually his biography. This was very important to know the intention and thus calculate whether any defamation may occur due to the malice of the defendant or someone else.
Thus I would conclude that I believe the autobiography should only have been published after removing the names of the police and prison authorities. Although it was stated that there was no law to prevent the publishing of the book and the publishers can be sued later, still, the publication itself could lead to a lot of harm. Thus a judgement should have been taken where a middle ground between the right to privacy and freedom of speech and expression could have been found.
All the previous cases dealing with the right to privacy had taken fair reasoning by taking note of the privacy principle but this case studied the principle in a very different manner. It allowed the first publication of the alleged autobiography but warned that if they went beyond that and publish his life story, they may be invading his right to privacy and will be liable for the consequences in accordance with the law.
This case was decided before the enforcement of ‘right to privacy’ as a fundamental right. If the case would have been decided today, most probably the judgement would have been a completely different one. Since it is now a fundamental right guaranteed by the constitution, it cannot be harmed in any way as per Article 32 of the Indian Constitution. The details of the prison authorities would come under the ambit of privacy and it would have been the argument of the state.
As per my opinion, the biggest mistake made by the court was allowing the book to be published without any changes. The book had names of prison authorities and many intimate details about the prison facilities. Even though Shankar had written the book, there was no evidence showing that everything written by Shankar was true and the only way it could have been proved was by the presence of Shankar. Although the court has allowed the State to appeal, once the book is published, the damage is done. Even if the judgement was later reversed (which it was not), once the book had been published, names of the authorities who allegedly committed crimes would have been called out and they would be severely disrespected in the society. Moreover, letting out such intricate details of the prisons could greatly violate the security of the prisons. If the court still wanted to get the book published, they must have first conducted a police investigation to check if the police officers talked about in the book were actually involved in the crime.
It would be suggested that law reforms of privacy be strengthened. Right to privacy now a fundamental right still needs proper implementation. Also, freedom of speech and expression cannot be warranted for a defamatory statement or in cases where the true nature of the alleged facts is not known. This right cannot be denied and it is rightfully given to the people however it must be controlled in situations to avoid it being misused.
However, the judgment was ideal in starting a discussion about the right to privacy and thus greatly aiding the process.
R. Rajagopal and Ors. vs. State of Tamil Nadu and Ors. (07.10.1994 – SC): MANU/SC/0056/1995
R. Rajagopal and Ors. vs. State of Tamil Nadu and Ors. (07.10.1994 – SC): MANU/SC/0056/1995
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