Freedom of Association and Assembly / Protests
Vajnai v. Hungary
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The High Court of Madras ordered the Respondent Deputy Commissioner of Police to allow the Petitioner to hold a public meeting against corruption but ruled that this could be subject to reasonable restrictions. The Respondent had rejected the request because he believed that the meeting was intended to incite public disorder. The Court reasoned that the Petitioner had the right to peacefully assemble without arms and to conduct a public meeting to promote its principles under Article 19(1) (a) & 19 (1) (b) of the Constitution of India and that the Respondent authority had a duty to protect against untoward incidents during the meeting.
The Petitioner, an organization involved in social activities for the benefit of the general public, filed a writ petition in the High Court of Madras against an order prohibiting it from organising a public meeting in Mylapore Mangollai, a public space. The public meeting was to be held on August 10 2017 between 5 – 9 pm to address the issue of corruption in Tamil Nadu. The Petitioner had submitted a request to the Fourth Respondent, the Inspector of Police, on September 11 2017. The other Respondents were the State of Tamil Nadu, the Commissioner of Police and the Assistant Commissioner of Police.
On September 30 2018, the Assistant Commissioner of Police, Mylapore Range, issued a show cause notice as to why permission should not be granted for conducting the said meeting. On the very next day, October 1, 2018, the Petitioner filed a detailed submission as to its right to freedom of speech and expression and to assemble peacefully. However, its submission was not considered before the case was called and the Advocate General produced a copy of the order dated October 4 from the Assistant Commissioner of Police rejecting the Petitioner’s request for permission. The rejection had been passed on the ground that the Respondent had reliable information that the Petitioner intended to incite people to public disorder under the guise of organizing the meeting.
The Petitioner sought a declaration that the failure of the Respondent to grant permission to conduct the public meeting was illegal and arbitrary in accordance with its submission on its rights under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India which guarantees every citizen, the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression, and Article 19(1)(b) that confers the right to assemble peacefully and without arms.
J.M.S. Ramesh had to consider whether the Petitioners had the fundamental rights to free speech and expression and to conduct a public meeting and whether the Respondent was reasonable in refusing the request because he believed that the Petitioner was attempting to incite people and disrupt law and order under the guise of conducting the meeting. The Respondent was also concerned that anti-social elements might take advantage of the situation and indulge in anti-social activities.
J. Ramesh considered that the Respondent’s reasoning for rejecting the Petitioner’s request was not justified for the simple reason that the police department had been created specifically for the purpose of tackling problems after they happened. The Petitioner had a fundamental right to conduct such a meeting and if the Respondent was of the view that incitement to public disorder was intended, it was always open to him to permit the Petitioner to conduct the meeting and impose conditions. Moreover, adequate protection could be extended during the course of the meeting to ensure that such incidents were controlled.
Consequently, J. Ramesh upheld the fundamental rights of the Petitioner and held that the Petitioner had a right to peacefully assemble without arms and conduct a public meeting to promote its principles. He also reasoned that the Respondent, being the relevant authority, had to ensure that no untoward incident happened during the course of meeting and this empowered it to regulate the conduct of the meeting.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
The decision expands expression by upholding the rights to freedom of speech and expression and to conduct a public meeting.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
The Judgement of the High Court of Madras is binding on all the lower courts and a persuasive precedent for all other High Courts as well as the Supreme Court of India.
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