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CJI pleased with PIL vs IT Act by law-student-to-be from family of illustrious female lawyers

Singhal: Not very active on Facebook
Singhal: Not very active on Facebook
21-year old law aspirant Shreya Singhal, a graduate in astrophysics from the UK’s Bristol University, daughter of Supreme Court advocate Manali Singhal and grand daughter of the late Delhi high court judge Justice Sunanda Bhandare, challenged section 66A of the Information Technology Act in the Supreme Court today under which two women were booked for a comment critical of Bal Thackeray on Facebook 10 days ago.  [via @sumit_nagpal and profile by Mint].

The section penalises anyone who sends “offending” or “annoying” messages through a computer or any communication device, with a maximum penalty of three years’ imprisonment. Two women from around Mumbai were arrested for sharing and liking a Facebook status criticising the bandh-like situation in Mumbai after the death of political supremo Thackeray.

Chief justice of India Altamas Kabir admitted Shreya Singhal’s petition and said: “We were wondering why no one has approached the Supreme Court (over this) and even thought of taking up the issue suo moto.” [NDTV]

Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi argued for Singhal today and when questioned by the judges on her standing, responded: “She is a law student and a Facebook user, unlike most of us.” [via @aparatbar]

In her plea, Singhal noted: “The phraseology of Section 66A of the IT Act, 2000 is so wide and vague and incapable of being judged on objective standards, that it is susceptible to wanton abuse and hence falls foul of Article 14, 19 (1)(a) and Article 21 of the Constitution.

She has sought to “reconcile section 41 and 156 (1) of the Criminal Procedure Code with Article 19 (1)(a) of the Constitution”. In other words, she has asked the court to disallow arrest without warrant and police investigation without a magisterial order for offences under the Indian Penal Code or any other laws that involve the freedom of speech.

Further hearing in the matter is posted for tomorrow, when attorney general GE Vahanvati will appear before the bench on behalf of the government. [Medianama]

Meanwhile, India’s telecom ministry has issued guidelines to states ordering that police officers must obtain the prior permission of the deputy commissioner of police (DCP) before registering cases under section 66A. In case of metropolitan cities, the permission would have to be obtained from the inspector general (IG) of police. [Hindu Businessline]

Station level officers, like those who booked the charge against the bandh critics, would now not be able to do so if the guidelines were followed. But cyber law expert Pavan Duggal told the Wall Street Journal that the guidelines remained inconsequential without an amendment to the Act itself.

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