Freedom of Speech and Expression

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Freedom of Speech and Expression

Submitted by: Manvi Sharma

“Everyone has right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference, and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers.” (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 10th December, 1948)


Freedom of speech—the right to express opinions without government restraint—is a democratic ideal that dates back to ancient Greece The ancient Greeks pioneered free speech as a democratic principle. The ancient Greek word “parrhesia” means “free speech,” or “to speak candidly.” The term first appeared in Greek literature around the end of the fifth century B.C.

During the classical period, parrhesia became a fundamental part of the democracy of Athens. Leaders, philosophers, playwrights and everyday Athenians were free to openly discuss politics and religion and to criticize the government in some settings.

Milton in his Areopagitica says that without this freedom „there can be no health in the moral and intellectual life of either the individual or the nation‟ freedom of speech and expression is more essential in a democratic set up of state where people are the sovereign rulers. In “without freedom of speech” says Ivor Jennings, “the appeal to reason which is the basis of democracy cannot be made”

Right to express is not only limited to speaking but also includes various forms, freedom of speech and expression found its place in United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, there are various countries throughout the world that have given the formal recognition in their Constitutions

There was in British regime rise the demand for freedom of speech and expression in India on various occasions as: Nehru Committee (1928), Indian National Congress Karachi Session (1931) Round Table Conference for the discussion 58 over the Constitutional Reforms (1930- 32), the Government of India Act, (1935), and finally after the Indian Independence Constitution of India incorporated Under Art. 19 (1)(a).

 Importance of Freedom of speech and expression

Freedom of speech and expression not only allows people to communicate their feelings, ideas, and opinions to others, rather it serves a broader purpose as well. These purposes can be classified into four:

  1. It helps an individual to attain self- fulfillment;
  2. It assists in the discovery of truth;
  3. It strengthens the capacity of an individual to participate in the decision making process;
  4. It provides a mechanism by which it would be possible to establish a reasonable balance between stability and social change.

Freedom of speech and expression in India

After the attainment of independence and the establishment of the Constituent Assembly, the framers of the Constitution adopted the resolution for providing fundamental rights to its citizens. The idea of Fundamental Rights was derived from the Bill of Rights in the American Constitution. Furthermore, the provision pertaining to freedom of speech and expression was adapted from the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution, 1726. The bill provided that the Congress shall not abridge the freedom of speech or freedom of the press. This has been well interpreted by the Supreme Court of the United States in a number of landmark precedents.

The Sub Committee on Fundamental Rights on March 1947 considered the reports of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and Dr. Munshi on the rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly and other rights contained in the drafts provided by them. Here a proposal was put forth by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar that no law shall be made restricting the freedom of speech, of the press, of association, and of assembly except by certain restrictions imposed by the union in the interest of the public order or morality .

Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution of India states that, “all citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression”. The philosophy behind this Article lies in the Preamble of the Constitution, where a solemn resolve is made to secure to all its citizen, liberty of thought and expression. The exercise of this right is, however, subject to “reasonable restrictions” for certain purposes being imposed under Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India.

The main elements of right to freedom of speech and expression are as under-

1. This right is available only to a citizen of India and not to foreign nationals.

2. The freedom of speech under Article 19(1) (a) includes the right to express one’s views and opinions at any issue through any medium, e.g. by words of mouth, writing, printing, picture, film, movie etc.

4. Failure on the part of the State to guarantee to all its citizens the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression would also constitute a violation of Article 19(1) (a).

The Grounds on Which This Freedom Could Be Restricted

Clause (2) of Article 19 of the Indian constitution imposes certain restrictions on free speech under following heads:

I. security of the State,

II. Friendly relations with foreign States

III. Public order,

IV. Decency and morality,

V. contempt of court,

VI. Defamation,

VII. Incitement to an offence, and

Landmark Cases on freedom of speech and expression


The validity of the Drug and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisement) Act, which put restrictions on advertisement of drugs in certain cases and prohibited advertisements of drugs having magic qualities for curing diseases was challenged on the ground that the restriction on advertisement abridged the freedom. The Supreme Court held that an advertisement is no doubt a form of speech but every advertisement was held to be dealing with commerce or trade and not for propagating ideas.

     Advertisement of prohibited drugs would, therefore, not fall within the scope of Article 19(1) (a).


The Court, in this case, observed that, Article 19 of the Indian Constitution does not use the phrase “freedom of press” in its language, but it is contained within Article 19(1) (a). There cannot be any interference with the freedom of press in the name of public interest. The purpose of the press is to enhance public interest by publishing facts and opinions, without which a democratic electorate cannot take responsible decisions.

It is, therefore, the primary duty of courts to uphold the freedom of press and invalidate all laws or administrative actions which interfere with it contrary to the constitutional mandate.



The Supreme Court of India dismissed challenges to the constitutionality of the criminal offense of defamation, holding that it was a reasonable restriction on the right to freedom of expression. The case had been brought by several petitioners charged with criminal defamation. They argued that the offense of criminal defamation inhibited their speech. The Court found that there existed a constitutional duty to respect the dignity of others.

The Court rejected the contention that defamation is fundamentally a notion of the majority meant to cripple the freedom of speech and expression as too broad a proposition to be treated as a guiding principle to adjudge the reasonableness of a restriction.


The Supreme Court of India invalidated Section 66A of the Information Technology Act of 2000 in its entirety.  The Court held that the prohibition against the dissemination of information by means of a computer resource or a communication device intended to cause annoyance; inconvenience or insult did not fall within any reasonable exceptions to the exercise of the right to freedom of expression.

The Court invalidated Section 66A of ITA in its entirety as it violated the right to freedom of expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India.


It has been rightly observed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in the case of Romesh Thappar vs The State Of Madras (1950) that the freedom of speech and expression lay at the foundation of all democratic organizations. Therefore freedom of speech is of paramount importance in a democracy. Hence it is concluded here that the freedom of speech in India has been a boon granted to us by the Constituent Assembly. This freedom is essential for the proper functioning of democratic process and is regarded as the first condition of liberty.

Remedies for the violation of fundamental rights are also given, This procedure of asking the courts to preserve or safeguard the citizen’s fundamental rights can be done in various ways. The courts can issue various kinds of writs protecting the rights of the citizens. These writs are:

  1. habeas corpus
  2. mandamus
  3. writ of Prohibition
  4. quo warranto
  5. certiorari

This allows a citizen to move to court if they believe that any of their Fundamental Rights have been violated by the state. Article 32 is also called citizens right to protect and defend the constitution as it can be used by the citizens to enforce the constitution through the judiciary. Dr. B. R. Ambedkar rightly declared Right to constitutional remedies as “the heart and soul” of Indian constitution. When a national or state emergency is declared, this right is suspended by the central government.



[1] 1960 AIR 554, 1960 SCR (2) 671

[2] (1985) 2 S.C.R. 287

[3] 184 OF 2014

[4] NO.167 OF 2012

1 Comment

  • anjali June 29, 2019Reply

    Such a nice writing. Well appreciated. Writer will rise and shine for sure


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