Anti-terror law not to be used to quell dissent: Justice Chandrachud
Supreme Court judge Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud has emphasised that criminal laws, including anti-terror legislation, should not be used for muzzling dissent and that courts must act as the “first line of defence” against deprivation of liberty.
Justice Chandrachud was speaking at the Indo-US Joint Summer Conference on Indo-US legal ties on Monday evening when he underscored that no law can be employed to harass citizens and take away their freedom. “Criminal law, including anti-terror legislation, should not be misused for quelling dissent or harassment to citizens. As I noted in my judgement in Arnab Goswami Vs the State, our courts must ensure that they continue to remain the first line of defence against the deprivation of liberty of citizens,” said the judge.
Justice Chandrachud added that deprivation of liberty for even a single day is “one too many” and that judges must always be mindful of the deeper systemic issues of their decisions. “Today, the world’s oldest and largest democracy represents these ideals of a multicultural, pluralist society where their constitutions are focused on a deep commitment and respect for human rights,” said the judge.
Justice Chandrachud’s remarks have come amid outrage over the death of 84-year-old activist Stan Swamy, who was arrested under the anti-terror law in the Elgar Parishad case last year. Swamy died last week in Mumbai while his bail plea on health grounds remained pending before the high court there. Several other cases where the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act has been invoked have also courted controversies recently. Only a few days ago, Assam leader Akhil Gogoi walked out of jail after spending 18 months behind bars in connection with a case under UAPA over violent protests against the contentious amendment to the citizenship law.
Last month, while granting bail to student activists Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita and Asif Iqbal Tanha, the Delhi high court made some sharp observations on indiscriminate use of UAPA. It said that foisting extremely grave and serious penal provisions engrafted in UAPA frivolously upon people will undermine the intent and purpose of the Parliament in enacting a law that is meant to address threats to the very existence of our nation.
Sharing his views at the online conference hosted by the American Bar Association and Society of Indian Law Firms, justice Chandrachud also highlighted that the Supreme Court of India, the last court of appeal, has a wide reach over its population, executive and lower courts.
The Supreme Court, he said, provides greater access to individuals by exercising not just its appellate jurisdiction but also its rich jurisdiction to protect the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution.
About the role of the Supreme Court in ensuring jails are decongested, justice Chandrachud pointed out that during the first wave of the pandemic in March 2020, the top court ordered all states to set up high-level committees to consider releasing on bail or parole those who had been jailed for up to seven years. “... In view of the second wave in May 2021, the Supreme Court on May 7, ordered that those who were released in the first wave of the pandemic were eligible for immediate release...,” said the judge.
Justice Chandrachud further said that the Supreme Court has often relied on comparative jurisprudence emanating from the US, indulging often in a transnational judicial dialogue.
“For instance in my judgement in Navtej Johar Vs Union of India, where the Indian Supreme Court decriminalized same-sex relations between adults, I relied on comparative law developments from the United Kingdom, the European Court of Human Rights and the celebrated decision in Lawrence Vs Texas of the US Supreme Court to hold that there was the growing liberal consensus towards the equal treatment of LGBTQ rights and that India could not be left behind in this transformational revision,” noted the judge in his address.
Dr Lalit Bhasin, President, SILF and Joseph L Raia, Chair ABA International thanked justice Chandrachud for addressing the conference as its chief guest.