June 24, 2021
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Khushboo V/s Kannaiammal

'Need To Tolerate Unpopular Views'

'Notions of social morality are inherently subjective and the criminal law cannot be used as a means to unduly interfere with the domain of personal autonomy. Morality and Criminality are not co-extensive'

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'Need To Tolerate Unpopular Views'
'Need To Tolerate Unpopular Views'

While quashing the various complaints filed against actress Khushboo -- they " do not support or even draw a prima facie case for any of the statutory offences as 
alleged" -- the Supreme Court also addressed the vexatious so dealt with the vexatious procedural loophole in section 177 of the Criminal Procedural Code (CrPC) which allows multiple cases to be filed against a person, even though they have the same subject matter. Earlier,  Delhi High Court in Maqbool Fida Husain V/s RajKumar Pandey had ruled: ‘it has become imperative that ... jurisdiction be more circumscribed so that an artist ... is not made to run from pillar to post facing proceedings.’ The Supreme Court in its judgement has gone an extra step: 

We are of the view that the institution of the numerous criminal complaints against the appellant was done in a mala fide manner. In order to prevent the abuse of the criminal law machinery, we are therefore inclined to grant the relief sought by the appellant. In such cases, the proper course for Magistrates is to use their statutory powers to direct an investigation into the allegations before taking cognizance of the offences alleged. It is not the task of the criminal law to punish individuals merely for expressing unpopular views. The threshold for placing reasonable restrictions on the‘freedom of speech and expression’ is indeed a very high one and there should be a presumption in favour of the accused in such cases. It is only when the complainants produce materials that support a prima facie case for a statutory offence that Magistrates can proceed to take cognizance of the same. We must be mindful that the initiation of a criminal trial is a process which carries an implicit degree of coercion and it should not be triggered by false and frivolous complaints, amounting to harassment and humiliation to the accused.

Also worth noting is the court's common-sensical advice: 

In the present case, the substance of the controversy does not really touch on whether premarital sex is socially acceptable. Instead, the real issue of concern is the disproportionate response to the appellant’s remarks. If  the complainants vehemently disagreed with the appellant’s views, then they should have contested her views through the news media or any other public platform. The law should not be used in a manner that has chilling effects on the ‘freedom of speech and expression’.




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