Case Analysis

R. Rajagopal v. State of Tamil Nadu [1994]

By Amit Sheoran

Introduction

The above-mentioned case of R. Rajgopal vs State of Tamil Nadu talk about the rights available for the citizens and the rights highlighted in this case was the freedom of speech and expression as well as the right to privacy. The issue of the right to privacy is not a new concept for us. It is not the first time that the right to privacy is being discussed but it has been already discussed into Aadhar card and also in a famous landmark case of Kharak Singh vs State of UP & Ors and the case of R. Rajgopal vs State of Tamil Nadu. In this case, the main issue was about the liberty of the press and also about the privacy of voters of this nation. In addition, it also follows the discussion on the parameters of the right of the press to criticize as well as investigate the facts & act and also the conduct of public officers. It is clearly mentioned about the right to privacy and liberty under article 21 of the constitution. The freedom of speech and expression and the right to privacy both are fundamental rights and these rights give full liberty to a man to put their views and keep their views secret in front of people. Therefore, the Supreme court judges allow the publication of the book and also proclaimed that the right to privacy is a part and parcel of our life and it is defined under article 21 of the  Indian constitution. 

Facts of the Case

The Petition was filed by the publisher, editor, associate editor, printer of a Tamil magazine that is named Nakkheeran. The petitioners filed the suit against the respondent for the prior restriction on publication of an autobiography of a prisoner named Auto Shanker, in the magazine of Petitioner. Shanker was guilty of six murders for which he was sentenced to death. The petitioner said that If Shanker self-wrote his autobiography and expressed the story of his life and he would like to print it in the Nakkheeran magazine then what the wrong, The prisoner has the right to freedom of speech and expression to put their views in the front of people. But the state officials said that the autobiography will not be published in the magazine. After that Petitioners brought an action by filing the case to stop the respondents from violating both the rights for example rights of freedom of speech and expression of both the magazine and prisoner. The choice created within the case was that the State cannot stop from printing any article, only for the rationale which it’s going to cause defamation to the State.  And such interference of unreasonable prior restraint can be unlawful. 

In a free democratic society, it is obvious that who holds government office and who is liable for public administration should be receptive to criticism. Publication of any such article without the consent of that individual that concerns the personal life of the person, no matter whether it is true or not, will lead to violation of privacy, and the respondent will be liable for that act or publication.  But the prominence of the publication is predicated based on the public record or any court records is an exception for the rule but if such records are found related to the naming of victims of offenses, for example, sexual assault or any fact that is related to his personal life right then it will lead to violation of the right of privacy. Hence the petitioners had full right to publish the autobiography of Auto Shanker and his life story that appeared in public records. By the way, if any data is found beyond the public records then the publication authority will be liable for breaching his right to privacy. Therefore, the  Public officers don’t have the right to bring any action for damages in defamation about acts that they perform within the discharge of their official duties, unless and until they will prove that this publication is fake and try to defame the victim.  

Issues Raised

1. Whether the state has a right to infringe the right to privacy by stoping a book from publication?

2. Whether the right of freedom of speech and expression & right to privacy is really violated of both prisoner and publisher?

Argument of Appellant 

The petitioners said that Auto Shankar wanted to publish his autobiography in our magazine and it is his fundamental right to express his views, so no one can not violate his rights. The petitioners also argued that the publication of the autobiography is unsettled for several officials because it may reveal the connections between the prisoner and various State officials that is why they are putting restrictions on it and violating the right of expression and right of privacy. The Petitioners also said that the prisoner has a fundamental right under Article 19(1)(a) of the constitution that is freedom of speech and expression and to get his life story published when he wishes. He also said that the prison authorities may take steps to harass them and force the prison not to publish his autobiography. 

Argument of Respondant

The Respondent argued that the prisoner self denied writing any book or executing a power of attorney in favor of his advocate for the publication, and the autobiography contained false information that may be defamatory. They also argued by saying that the allegations of torture to the prisoner by the prison authorities were baseless. 

Judgment

 In this mentioned case, the court held that Shankar had full liberty to get his autobiography printed because it is not written with any bad side intention behind his autobiography. and also it didn’t embody anything which is not true. Thus, the Supreme Court held that the prisoner has full right to publish his autobiography and the publisher can publish the autobiography of Shankar when he wants and publisher also has full right to publish about Shankar which is mentioned under public records without the consent of Sankar. And it also said that it had already acquired a Constitutional status.

Obiter dicta 

The above-mentioned case stated about the right to privacy, therefore it is aiding the rule to turn it into a basic right. According to this case, the right to privacy is an important part of Article 21 of the Indian constitution. Therefore, everybody has the full right to safeguard their privacy as well as their family. So, no one can stop people from lawful enjoyment of their rights.

Ratio decidende

The court said that the article can be published by the publishers without taking any prior authority of Shankar in the case it clearly appears in public records. Hence, they can publish the article of Shankar when he agrees and want to publish his article in petitioner magazine. But they could not publish anything that is related to his personal life without the consent of the person and held that if anyone violates the right to privacy then he will be punished. Even the state has no such right to stop the citizens from the publication but the person must have every right to seek remedy if any of the above-mentioned clauses is harmed.

Analysis

In the above case, the Court noticed that the wrong of the right of privacy which covers various rights and these rights can be:- 

The general law of privacy is any wrongful act that affects the personal life of any individual by using the facts which are related to his personal life. The constitutional status is given to the right of privacy that protects the personal issues, secrets, property, and other such things of any citizens against unlawful governmental interference. The Court also said that this is a fundamental right and citizens should not leave their rights but citizens should keep in mind that these rights are not absolute.

The Court found that several judgments across the world raised many questions like how these relevant decisions were under the constitution of India? The Court said in a very good way that it was very necessary to maintain a core balance between both the rights of freedom of the press and the right of privacy. The Court noticed that the state or its officials do not have any right or power to impose any kind of prior restriction on the publication of any content or material that even maybe defamatory but can take action if it is found defamatory after publication. Therefore, no prior restriction can be put on the publication of material by the respondents or state officials, this will be against articles 19 and 21 of the constitution. The Court also said that the state can sue the publisher for defamation after the article is published in any such issue arises but they cannot put any prior restriction on the publication of autobiography or any article of any people.

According to the above-mentioned rule the petitioners have full right to publish, the autobiography of Auto Shankar when he wants to publish, insofar the publisher can publish about his life story that appears in the public records, even without the consent or authority of people. But if they try or go beyond it and publish his personal life story that neither appears in public records nor the person give his consent to publish then this may lead to violation of the right of privacy and the publisher will also be liable for all the losses or consequences occur according to the law. In a similar way, the State or its officials also have no such rights or power to prevent anyone from the publication of any article. Hence the court held that the petitioner has full power to publish the autobiography of the Auto Sanker and the state officials have no right to prevent them from doing so. If they try to prevent them then this will lead to violation of both the rights of freedom of speech and expression as well as the right to life and personal liberty that is clearly stated under articles 19 and 21 of the constitution.

Conclusion


After explaining the case in brief, I would like to conclude that the right to freedom of speech and expression is one of the most important parts of a democratic society. The judgment has clearly indicated the right of the press as well as the right to privacy. However, no freedom is indeed definite, And Indian legislation must put restrictions on such freedoms and can apply the contemporary status of the society instead of the international status for the purpose of determining the limits of freedom. This case is also important because it tries to show that the right to privacy is a part and parcel of article 21 of the Indian constitution that defines the right to life and personal liberty. The second thing that we get from this case is that public figures also cannot put any restriction on anything that leads to violation of the privacy of any citizen and anything that is on public record can be published. 

Thus, It will not be wrong to say that this judgment is a landmark judgment that showed the importance of both the rights of freedom of the press as well as the right to privacy. 

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