Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Highlights of Supreme Court Judgment on Privacy

CONCLUSION

496. The right of privacy is a fundamental right. It is a right which protects the inner sphere of the individual from interference from both State, and non-State actors and allows the individuals to make autonomous life choices.

497. It was rightly expressed on behalf of the Petitioners that the technology has made it possible to enter a citizen's house without knocking at his/her door and this is equally possible both by the State and non-State actors. It is an individual's choice as to who enters his house, how he lives and in what relationship. The privacy of the home must protect the family, marriage, procreation and sexual orientation which are all important aspects of dignity.

498. If the individual permits someone to enter the house it does not mean that others can enter the house. The only check and balance is that it should not harm the other individual or affect his or her rights. This applies both to the physical form and to technology. In an era where there are wide, varied, social and cultural norms and more so in a country like ours which prides itself on its diversity, privacy is one of the most important rights to be protected both against State and non-State actors and be recognized as a fundamental right. How it thereafter works out in its inter-play with other fundamental rights and when such restrictions would become necessary would depend on the factual matrix of each case. That it may give rise to more litigation can hardly be the reason not to recognize this important, natural, primordial right as a fundamental right.

499. There are two aspects of the opinion of Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud, J., one of which is common to the opinion of Rohinton F. Nariman, J., needing specific mention. While considering the evolution of Constitutional jurisprudence on the right of privacy he has referred to the judgment in Suresh Kumar Koushal v. Naz Foundation MANU/SC/1278/2013 : (2014) 1 SCC 1. In the challenge laid to Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code before the Delhi High Court, one of the grounds of challenge was that the said provision amounted to an infringement of the right to dignity and privacy. The Delhi High Court, inter alia, observed that the right to live with dignity and the right of privacy both are recognized as dimensions of Article 21 of the Constitution of India. The view of the High Court, however did not find favour with the Supreme Court and it was observed that only a miniscule fraction of the country's population constitutes lesbians, gays, bisexuals or transgenders and thus, there cannot be any basis for declaring the Section ultra virus of provisions of Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution. The matter did not rest at this, as the issue of privacy and dignity discussed by the High Court was also observed upon.

The sexual orientation even within the four walls of the house thus became an aspect of debate. I am in agreement with the view of Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud, J., who in paragraphs 123 & 124 of his judgment, states that the right of privacy cannot be denied, even if there is a miniscule fraction of the population which is affected. The majoritarian concept does not apply to Constitutional rights and the Courts are often called up on to take what may be categorized as a non-majoritarian view, in the check and balance of power envisaged under the Constitution of India. Ones sexual orientation is undoubtedly an attribute of privacy.
The observations made in Mosley v. News Group Papers Ltd. (2008) EWHS 1777 (QB), in a broader concept may be usefully referred to:
130... It is not simply a matter of personal privacy v. the public interest. The modern perception is that there is a public interest in respecting personal privacy. It is thus a question of taking account of conflicting public interest considerations and evaluating them according to increasingly well recognized criteria.

131. When the courts identify an infringement of a person's Article 8 rights, and in particular in the context of his freedom to conduct his sex life and personal relationships as he wishes, it is right to afford a remedy and to vindicate that right. The only permitted exception is where there is a countervailing public interest which in the particular circumstances is strong enough to outweigh it; that is to say, because one at least of the established "limiting principles" comes into play. Was it necessary and proportionate for the intrusion to take place, for example, in order to expose illegal activity or to prevent the public from being significantly misled by public claims hitherto made by the individual concerned (as with Naomi Campbell's public denials of drug-taking)? Or was it necessary because the information, in the words of the Strasbourg court in Von Hannover at (60) and (76), would make a contribution to "a debate of general interest"? That is, of course, a very high test, it is yet to be determined how far that doctrine will be taken in the courts of this jurisdiction in relation to photography in public places. If taken literally, it would mean a very significant change in what is permitted. It would have a profound effect on the tabloid and celebrity culture to which we have become accustomed in recent years.

500. It is not necessary to delve into this issue further, other than in the context of privacy as that would be an issue to be debated before the appropriate Bench, the matter having been referred to a larger Bench.

501. The second aspect is the discussion in respect of the majority judgment in the case of ADM Jabalpur v. Shivkant Shukla MANU/SC/0062/1976 : (1976) 2 SCC 521 in both the opinions. In I.R. Coelho v. The State of Tamil Nadu MANU/SC/0595/2007 : (2007) 2 SCC 1 it was observed that the ADM Jabalpur case has been impliedly overruled and that the supervening event was the 44th Amendment to the Constitution, amending Article 359 of the Constitution. I fully agree with the view expressly overruling the ADM Jabalpur case which was an aberration in the constitutional jurisprudence of our country and the desirability of burying the majority opinion ten fathom deep, with no chance of resurrection.

502. Let the right of privacy, an inherent right, be unequivocally a fundamental right embedded in part-III of the Constitution of India, but subject to the restrictions specified, relatable to that part. This is the call of today. The old order changeth yielding place to new.

ORDER OF THE COURT

503. The judgment on behalf of the Hon'ble Chief Justice Shri Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar, Shri Justice R.K. Agrawal, Shri Justice S Abdul Nazeer and Dr. Justice D.Y. Chandrachud was delivered by Dr. Justice D.Y. Chandrachud. Shri Justice J Chelameswar, Shri Justice S.A. Bobde, Shri Justice Abhay Manohar Sapre, Shri Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman and Shri Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul delivered separate judgments.

504. The reference is disposed of in the following terms:

(i) The decision in M.P. Sharma which holds that the right to privacy is not protected by the Constitution stands over-ruled;

(ii) The decision in Kharak Singh to the extent that it holds that the right to privacy is not protected by the Constitution stands over-ruled;

(iii) The right to privacy is protected as an intrinsic part of the right to life and personal liberty Under Article 21 and as a part of the freedoms guaranteed by Part III of the Constitution.

(iv) Decisions subsequent to Kharak Singh which have enunciated the position in (iii) above lay down the correct position in law.

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

Writ Petition (Civil) No. 494 of 2012, 

Decided On: 24.08.2017

 Justice K.S. Puttaswamy Vs.  Union of India (UOI) and Ors.


Hon'ble Judges/Coram:
J.S. Khehar, C.J.I., Jasti Chelameswar, S.A. Bobde, R.K. Agrawal, Rohinton Fali Nariman, Abhay Manohar Sapre. Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud, Sanjay Kishan Kaul and S. Abdul Nazeer, JJ.
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