Supreme Court stays Centre’s Fact Check Unit notification

The Supreme Court today stayed the operation of the Centre’s March 20 notification regarding the Press Information Bureau’s Fact Checking Unit (FCU) until the Bombay High Court takes a final decision on petitions against the 2023 amendments to the Information Technology Rules.

A three-judge bench of Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud, Justice J B Pardiwala and Justice Manoj Mishra noted that the Centre had assured the High Court on April 27, 2023 that the FCU will not be notified till the petitions challenging Rule 3(1)(b)(v) of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Amendment Rules 2023 (IT Amendment Rules, 2023 are decided by the court.

The bench observed that it was not making any comments on merits as the matter is pending before the Bombay High Court. The apex court bench said that they are of the considered view that the challenge which is pending before High Court implicates core values impinging on the freedom of speech, which is protected by Article 19.

Furthermore, it underlined that since all the issues await the adjudication of the High Court, they are desisting from expressing any opinion on merits which may ultimately have the impact of foreclosing a full and fair consideration by the third judge of the High Court.

The top court, however, clarified that they are of the view that the notification dated March 20, 2024, which has been issued by the Centre after the rejection of the application for interim relief, would need to be stayed. It pointed out that the challenges to Rule 3(1)(b)(v) involve serious constitutional questions and that the impact of the Rule on the fundamental right to the freedom of speech and expression would call for analysis by the High Court.

Consecutively, the Supreme Court set aside the opinion of the third judge declining interim relief dated March 11, 2024 and directed that pending the disposal of the proceeding before the High Court, the notification of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology dated March 20, 2024 shall remain stayed.

The Bombay High Court on March 11 had rejected applications seeking an interim stay on notifying the FCU till the court decides on multiple petitions challenging the validity of the amended rules. The petitioners, namely stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra, Editors Guild of India, News Broadcasters and Digital Association and Association of Indian Magazines, have challenged the rules terming them arbitrary, unconstitutional, and in violation of fundamental rights.

Earlier in January, a split verdict was delivered by the division bench of Justices Gautam Patel and Neela Gokhale. While Justice Patel agreed with the petitioners’ contentions and struck down the amendment, Justice Gokhale upheld the government’s side. Subsequently, it was referred to a third judge.

Crime Today News | Judiciary

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