The bench, comprising Chief Justice of India UU Lalit, Justice S Ravindra Bhat and Justice Ajay Rastogi, was hearing a writ petition filed by an NGO, 'Peoples Union for Civil Liberties' (PUCL) which said the police continue to register FIRs under Section 66A of the IT Act depsite it being struck down in 2015.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered the police home departments of all states to immediately stop prosecuting anyone under Section 66A of the Information Technology Act 2000, which the top court had deemed unconstitutional in 2015 in the Shreya Singhal case.
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The bench, comprising Chief Justice of India UU Lalit, Justice S Ravindra Bhat and Justice Ajay Rastogi, was hearing a writ petition filed by an NGO, 'Peoples Union for Civil Liberties' (PUCL) which said the police continue to register FIRs under 66A depsite the 2015 ruling.
Section 66A empowered police to make arrests over “offensive” or “menacing” messages, or those that cause annoyance or inconvenience, through a computer or any other electronic communication device. A conviction could fetch a maximum of three years in jail.
In the 2015 case, the SC — while striking down 66A — noted the subjective nature of these offences, which do not fall among the exceptions granted under Article 19 of the Constitution, which guarantees the freedom of speech, and deemed the section as violative of the right to free speech and right to life.
In its last hearing of this petition, the court had directed the Centre to tell chief secretaries of state to ensure no more FIRs are filed under 66A and further, take remedial measures as soon as possible.
On Tuesday, the bench studied an report submitted by the advocate appearing for the Union of India with regards to complaints under 66A. As per a Live Law report, the bench observed that "a number of crimes and criminal proceedings still reflected on the provision of Section 66A of the 2000 Act and citizens were still facing prosecution under the same" and stated, "Such proceedings are directly infringing directions under Shreya Singhal."
The bench then passed directions that all prevailing charges under 66A be dropped; the Director Generals of police, Home Secretaries and competent officers in States and Union Territories must tell the police force not to register complaints under 66A; if any official notification is issued that contains a mention of provisions under Section 66A, it must carry the caveat that they are violative of the Consitution.
With these directions, the bench disposed of the petition, which, filed by PUCL with help from the Internet Freedom Foundation, which, while alleging that Section 66A was still under use by law enforcement agencies, also alleged that the Centre "shirked its responsibility by pleading that the responsibility of implementation lay with the States as well law enforcement agencies".