Reputation part of right to life: SC

November 14, 2008: The Times of India

New Delhi: The Supreme Court has ruled that a person’s reputation is an inseparable part of his fundamental right to life and liberty and hence, the police and other authorities with the power to detain should be sure of their facts against an individual before taking him into preventive detention and lodging him in jail.

“If a person is sent to jail, then even if he is subsequently released, his reputation may be irreparably tarnished,¶ said a bench comprising Justices Altamas Kabir and Markandey Katju while quashing the preventive detention of one Gopaldas Bajaj of Mumbai under the Conservation of Foreign Exchange and Prevention of Smuggling Activities Act (Cofeposa). Accepting the arguments of former attorney general Soli J Sorabjee, who appeared for Bajaj, the bench citing an earlier judgment said: “The reputation of a person is a facet of his right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution.¶ 

Linking of a person’s right to life and liberty (Article 21) with his reputation is cautioning the police and authorities to be extremely careful in detaining a person on suspicion.

It should be welcomed by those who are disturbed by the rampant trend among cops to send the accused to jail even for bailable offences or when the evidence has not fully firmed up.

Anxious to appease the chorus for swift justice and to be seen as discharging their law enforcement brief, cops and other detaining authorities see jailing the accused as an easy option. The ruling is also an acknowledgement of the disconnect between the judicial doctrine of the presumption of innocence and the opprobrium that gets heaped upon an individual when he is jailed.

If heeded, SC’s reminder, coming after another significant ruling where it frowned upon the trend of denying bail to the accused, may also have the effect of de-congesting jails. Writing the judgment for the bench, Justice Katju said the courts should not feel shy to examine the legality of a preventive detention order, even if it had not been executed.

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