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How Supreme Court's Order Has The Effect Of Suspending Sedition Cases Under Section 124A IPC?

Manu Sebastian
11 May 2022 12:14 PM GMT
How Supreme Courts Order Has The Effect Of Suspending Sedition Cases Under Section 124A IPC?
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The order passed by the Supreme Court today has the effect of suspending all pending and future cases for the offence of sedition under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, although there is no clear direction that fresh FIRs under this provision should not be registered.

Saying that the Union of India has also agreed with the Court's prima facie opinion that Section 124A IPC was intended for the colonial regime, and taking note of the statement of the Attorney General for India that there are glaring instances of misuse of this provision, the bench led by the Chief Justice of India observed - "we expect that, till the re-examination of the provision is complete, it will be appropriate not to continue the usage of the aforesaid provision of law by the Governments".

"We hope and expect that the State and Central Governments will restrain from registering any FIR, continuing any investigation or taking any coercive measures by invoking Section 124A of IPC while the aforesaid provision of law is under consideration", the order stated.

While the expression "hope and expect" might not be a strict bar against registration of sedition FIRs, a reading of the next directions, particularly directions (c) and (d), convey a clear intention on the part of the Court to keep in abeyance all pending and future cases under Section 124A IPC. They are as follows :

c. If any fresh case is registered under Section 124A of IPC, the affected parties are at liberty to approach the concerned Courts for appropriate relief. The Courts are requested to examine the reliefs sought, taking into account the present order passed as well as the clear stand taken by the Union of India.

d.All pending trials, appeals and proceedings with respect to the charge framed under Section 124A of IPC be kept in abeyance. Adjudication with respect to other Sections, if any, could proceed if the Courts are of the opinion that no prejudice would be caused to the accused.

The gist of direction (c) is that if any fresh case is registered for sedition, the Courts are to consider the bail applications or petitions seeking quashing of the FIR filed by accused taking into account the order of the Supreme Court and the "clear stand" taken by the Union of India that then provision is of colonial origin and it requires re-consideration and re-examination.

The clear stand of the Union is elaborated in paragraph 5 of the order, where it is stated - "In view of the above, it is clear that the Union of India agrees with the prima facie opinion expressed by this Court that the rigors of Section 124A of IPC is not in tune with the current social milieu, and was intended for a time when this country was under the colonial regime".

So, direction (c) is a message to the Magistrates and other courts to be liberal in granting relief to the accused in sedition cases, particularly in the light of the fact that the colonial provision is under re-examination.This direction enables accused who are under custody to file fresh applications for bail citing this new development. In a notable development, following the Supreme Court's order, the Rajasthan High Court today stayed the investigation of a sedition case against journalist Aman Chopra.

Direction (d) is a clear and categorical order to stay all pending trials, appeals and framing of charges under Section 124A IPC.

The Court has further said that the Centre will be at liberty to issue the proposed direction to the States - that a scrutiny by an officer at the level of Superintendent of Police is necessary before registration of FIR for sedition.

Although registration of FIRs for sedition are technically possible even after this order, the Court has conveyed its intention that the accused should be able to get easy relief against coercive actions. Also,no framing of charges or trial or appeal can proceed with respect to this provision after this order.

The Court also clarified that these directions will operate until further orders. The case will be next considered in the third week of July 2022.

One can say that, on a conjoint reading of all the directions, there is a defecto stay on the sedition law.

Commenting about the order, constitutional scholar Gautam Bhatia wrote in twitter : "Reasonably strong and good order. Formal abeyance of all pending proceedings should mean that it's also quite hard now for fresh proceedings to start, despite the "hope and expects" language.In effect: sedition is suspended at least until July (next date of hearing)".

It may be recalled that while issuing notice on the petition in July 2021, the Chief Justice of India had orally asked if it was necessary to retain this provision, which was used by the colonial masters to suppress the freedom movement, even 75 years after independence.
"It is a colonial law, it was meant to suppress the freedom movement, the same law was used by British to silence Mahatma Gandhi, Tilak etc. Still is it necessary after 75 years of independence?",
the CJI had asked the Attorney General then.
CJI Ramana had also asked why the Government was not looking into this provision, though it has repealed several other colonial provisions.

"If we go see history of charging of this section, the enormous power of this section can be compared to a carpenter being given a saw to make an item, uses it to cut the entire forest instead of a tree. That's the effect of this provision", the CJI had added.

People's Chief Justice : Impactful Remarks Of CJI Ramana In 2021

The directions issued by the Court are as follows :

a. The interim stay granted in W.P.(Crl.)No.217/2021 along with W.P.(Crl.)No.216/2021 vide order dated 31.05.2021 shall continue to operate till further orders.

b. We hope and expect that the State and Central Governments will restrain from registering any FIR, continuing any investigation or taking any coercive measures by invoking Section 124A of IPC while the aforesaid provision of law is under consideration.

c. If any fresh case is registered under Section 124A of IPC, the affected parties are at liberty to approach the concerned Courts for appropriate relief. The Courts are requested to examine the reliefs sought, taking into account the present order passed as well as the clear stand taken by the Union of India.

d.All pending trials, appeals and proceedings with respect to the charge framed under Section 124A of IPC be kept in abeyance. Adjudication with respect to other Sections, if any, could proceed if the Courts are of the opinion that no prejudice would be caused to the accused.

e.In addition to the above, the Union of India shall be at liberty to issue the Directive as proposed and placed before us, to the State Governments/Union Territories to prevent any misuse of Section 124A of IPC.

f. The above directions may continue till further orders are passed



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