Law commission

Law Commission: No more excessively abusive law

The Supreme Court’s order keeping Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) – the Sedition Act – in abeyance is a significant development. No new charges will be filed under the law and all pending trials, appeals and proceedings will be stayed. The GoI, for its part, must now undertake a careful and careful examination of the need for a sedition law. He would have sought to take into account the “views of stakeholders”. These must be open and inclusive.

There are basically two options before the GoI – repeal the provision as has been done in Britain, or amend it to provide a clearer definition of sedition to limit its use and misuse as in the US . In its new affidavit, the Indian government referred to a range of views on the law and the need to take them into account. While wider consultation needs to be undertaken, it is important to build on the work that has already been done. The Law Commission’s 2018 consultation paper provides a good starting point for this exercise. The aim is to design a legal provision that balances national security issues with the protection of India’s liberal democracy. Any irresponsible exercise of the right to freedom of speech and expression, and any act of dissent and criticism cannot be treated as a threat to the nation or the government. This review provides an opportunity to review existing laws dealing with various offenses against the state, country and community that undermine national security and integrity. Indeed, this is an opportunity to craft a law that is robust and balances national security and freedom of expression and speech.

Whether Section 124A is removed from the statute books or amended to prevent gross abuse, the process to reach this determination must be open, transparent and inclusive. And this process should not prejudge the final decision. The Supreme Court order creates the conditions for a meaningful review of Section 124A and allows the Indian government to undertake this exercise in good faith. We sincerely hope that he will take the first option of removing the law from the statute books.