March 20, 2023

Supreme Court rules that the government cannot be held vicariously liable for a minister’s remarks.

The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that the government cannot be held vicariously liable for a minister’s remarks. This means that if a minister makes a defamatory statement, the government cannot be held responsible for it. This is a victory for freedom of speech and for the separation of church and state.

The principles of collective responsibility cannot be used to vicariously impute a minister’s statement to the government, the Supreme Court said on Tuesday.

“Protection of fundamental rights relating to free expression and life and liberty can be accomplished against private persons and non-State actors also,” Justice V Ramasubramanian, a member of the five-judge constitutional panel, observed.

“The state is required to protect people’s fundamental rights when they are also violated by private persons,” he continued.

He noted that except from those set forth in the Constitution, no other limitations on free expression may be imposed.

“Public functionaries owe a duty at large to the public and must be conscious of the precedents they are setting for fellow citizens,” stated Justice BV Nagarathna. There can be no more limitations placed on the freedom to free expression.

According to Justice Nagarathna, who disagreed with the majority position, only habeas corpus cases can bring claims under Articles 19(1)(a) and 21 against private parties and non-State actors before constitutional tribunals.

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