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This article is written by Vivek Maurya from ICFAI Law University, Dehradun. In this article, the author has described the obstruction of personal liberty in the Arnab Goswami case.

Introduction

In a recent ruling for granting interim bail to the Republic Media Network Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami in a reopened abetment to suicide case, the Supreme Court said that the Bombay High Court had abdicated its constitutional duty and function as a protector of liberty by failing to conduct a prima facie evaluation of the FIR against Goswami. The Preamble to the Indian Constitution promises liberty to all citizens. The concept of liberty relates to the freedom of Indian citizen’s actions. The right to personal liberty is one of the most fundamental human rights since it impacts every aspect of a person’s bodily freedom. It is impossible to live without liberty. Who wants to be at the end of someone else’s leash, fearful at every turn? The flower of human dignity is continually blossoming and enlivened by the trinity of liberty, equality, and fraternity. The right to personal liberty is one of democracy’s gifts to humanity.

Personal liberty under Article 21

Personal liberty refers to an individual’s freedom to act as they want, subject to the limitations placed by laws and standards of conduct in the community in which they live to protect the physical, moral, political, and economic well-being of others. The Supreme Court addressed the definition of the phrase “personal liberty” in Kharak Singh v. State of UP and others (1962), which came out as a challenge to have something more than just animal existence.

Life would be meaningless without movement and without the use of human capabilities, it would not progress beyond the level of animals. Slavery, in any form, is the opposite of liberty because the right to liberty and free movement is based on the reality that every individual contributes something to the welfare of society.

Individual liberty is a basic requirement. Individuals are protected against the majority’s tyranny. It creates a baseline degree of intellectual, philosophical, spiritual, and economic variety in a community to guarantee that the optimal solution emerges from the free play of ideas. Individual liberty is critical for every civilization that wishes to progress, whether economically, intellectually, spiritually, or physically.

Better economics results from free societies

Individual liberties-oriented cultures or free societies are more likely to create economic freedom. As a result, the economy improves. There is a trend for better quality levels for items and services at a cheaper cost when there are more alternatives in a market. The greater the number of options available to consumers, the better for the economy.  

Freedom leads to a stable society

People do not feel compelled to take matters into their own hands when they believe that they may openly voice their displeasure and petition the government about their problems.

High levels of freedom leads to more contented individuals, including reasonable restrictions

People are more willing to take creative risks when they believe that they may express themselves without fear of being sued or imprisoned. They can publish books or create websites about philosophy, art, religion, and theory without fear of the government intervening to stifle their expression. People are happier when they believe that they can freely express themselves. They have the option to focus on things that are greater than and above mere life.

Leading cases related to the development of personal liberty 

A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madras (1950)

The Supreme Court saw the term “personal liberty” in a liberal light. The Court decided that the word “personal liberty” did not encompass everything that the term indicated. The Court determined that the term “personal liberty” referred only to bodily liberty such as freedom from arrest and detention as well as freedom from false incarceration or unlawful confinement.

Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India (1978)

The Supreme Court broadened the definition of personal liberty to give it the best possible scope in the Maneka Gandhi case. The Court ruled that the term “personal liberty” in Article 21 has the broadest meaning and encompasses a wide range of rights that contribute to a man’s personal liberty, some of which have been elevated to the level of unique fundamental rights and given extra protection under Article 19.

Kartar Singh v. State of Punjab (1961)

While discussing the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act, 1987 (TADA Act) in relation to the scope of life and personal liberty under Article 21, Justice K. Ramaswamy stated that the right to life with human dignity is a fundamental right of every citizen for the pursuit of happiness and excellence. Personal liberty is a necessary prerequisite for the complete development of the human personality.

Right against unlawful arrest and detention

Preventive detention refers to the imprisonment of a person without a trial or conviction by a Court, based only on the executive authority’s suspicions. Preventive detention is a particular legislation that allows the executive to place restrictions on the liberty of a man who has not yet committed a crime but has been arrested or is going to do activities that endanger the public’s safety. The regulation that is fair, just, and reasonable can hold a person. It cannot be arbitrary. Otherwise, it will be nullified and the person’s imprisonment will be unlawful or unconstitutional. The purpose of the preventive detention statute is to restrain a person from doing something that might endanger public peace or safety or cause public unrest.

The petitioner in Joginder Kumar v. State of Uttar Pradesh (1994), was arrested by police authorities and his whereabouts were not communicated to his family members for five days. Taking serious notice of the police’s arrogance and unconstitutional imprisonment of a free citizen, the Supreme Court established criteria for arresting a person during an inquiry.

  1. If an accused individual is being held in custody, he has the right to have a friend, relative, or other person informed about his arrest and where he is being kept, as far as feasible.
  2. When the detained individual is brought to the police station, the officer must tell him of his right. It will be necessary to record who was notified of the arrest in the journal.

Furthermore, In D.K. Basu. v. State of West Bengal (1996), the Supreme Court established comprehensive rules for central and state investigative agencies to follow in all situations of arrest and imprisonment until legislative laws are enacted as preventative measures. The Court also ruled that torture, harsh, inhuman, or humiliating treatment, whether during interrogation, inquiry or otherwise, is prohibited under Article 21.

Facts of the Arnab Goswami case 

Arnab Goswami, the Editor-in-Chief of Republic Media Network, was detained on November 4, 2020, along with two other accused, Feroz Shaikh and Nitesh Sarda, in connection with the 2018 suicide abetment case of designer Anvay Naik and his mother Kumud. In the suicide note, the designer claimed that the accused’s businesses had failed to pay their dues. The three defendants were eventually brought before a magistrate, who declined to transfer them to police custody and instead ordered that they be held in judicial custody.

Initially, the Republic TV editor was held at a local school that has been designated as a Covid-19 quarantine centre for the Alibaug jail. However, after reportedly being caught using a cellphone while in judicial custody, he was sent to the Taloja prison in Raigad district. Arnab Goswami and two other detainees applied to the Bombay HC for temporary bail, which was denied. The Supreme Court then considered a plea against the Bombay High Court judgement that denied him interim bail in the abetment to suicide case.

Failing of High Court to exercise its power under Section 482

On November 11, 2020, the Supreme Court granted Arnab Goswami temporary release, stating that restricting personal liberty would be a mockery of justice. The Bench noted that as the High Court was doing a prima facie evaluation, they could not have realised that the FIR and Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code had no connection. Arnab Goswami, according to Justice Chandrachud, is not a flight risk in this instance.

A provision on human liberty and the function of courts was added by the Supreme Court. Section 482 acknowledges the HC’s authority to give effect to other Criminal Procedure Code regulations. Accused choosing tactics cannot hinder the proper execution of criminal legislation and the Court must be cautious while using powers under Section 482 of the Criminal Procedure Code. The Court acknowledges inherent power, but it must also assist in the protection of liberty, which is woven into the fabric of the Constitution. The employment of criminal law must be avoided by the High Court.

The Supreme Court further stated that the Bombay High Court had abandoned its responsibility as a guardian of constitutional principles and fundamental rights and the criminal law should not be used to harass individuals selectively. Courts cannot lock their doors in such instances and they must remain open for all cases of loss of personal liberty, which cannot last more than one day.

Those who are sentenced to prison face significant repercussions. Ordinary individuals who lack the means or resources to petition the High Courts or this Court are referred to as undertrials. Courts must be aware of the reality on the ground, particularly in jails and police stations, where human dignity is unprotected. The courts must guarantee that they continue to be the first line of defence for infringement of citizen’s liberty. Even a single day of deprivation of liberty is an affront to justice. They must always consider the ramifications of their decisions on the larger system.

Interim bail by the Supreme Court

While granting bail to Arnab Goswami and two others, the Supreme Court voiced worry about state governments targeting individuals based on ideology or differences of opinion. The Bench stated that the submissions of the attorneys who appeared in the issue before it would be considered in the decision. It stated that if state governments target people, they should be aware that there is the Apex Court to defend citizen’s liberty.

The Supreme Court believes that the High Court made a mistake in dismissing the petition for interim bail. As a result, they ordered and instructed Arnab Manoranjan Goswami, Feroz Mohammad Shaikh, and Neetish Sarda to be released on interim bail, subject to each of them undertaking a Rs 50,000 personal bond before the Jail Superintendent.

The Highest Court in the case ordered the defendants to comply with the inquiry and not to tamper with the ongoing probe or the witnesses. The Supreme Court issued an order dismissing the appeals against the High Court’s rejection of Arnab Goswami’s plea.

Conclusion

In India, the notion of personal liberty has developed to a distinctive level for the protection of Indian citizens. The Supreme Court of India has also rejected the idea that liberty only means independence from bodily restriction and has declared that it includes all the rights and benefits that have been recognised as necessary to live a dignified or respectful life. 

Personal liberty is not a straightforward or solitary idea. Its legal protection usually clashes with other essential principles. Personal liberty is an extremely wide phrase, including both core constitutional rights such as freedom from government interference into one’s home and individuals’ right to make decisions regarding marriage, contraception, and abortion, as well as all the rights which are necessary for an individual to live a happy life. As a result, natural justice norms are firmly enshrined in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The notion of Article 21 lives on in all its sub-limits for eternity to assist the people of India and whenever they are in distress over any problem related to their lives and personal rights.

References


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