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HC permits screening of 'Da Vinci Code'

Written by: Staff

Chennai, Jul 7: Madras High Court today quashed the order of Commmissioner of Police, suspending the screening of the controversial film ''The Da Vinci Code'' in Tamil Nadu.

Holding that the impugned order of Commissioner of Police (COP) dated June one, clearly violated the petitioners right of freedom of expression, Ms Justice Prabha Sridevan allowed the petitions filed by Sony Pictures Releasing Private Limited and Anuroshni films.

The judge also imposed a cost of Rs 1,000 to be payable by the Tamil Nadu Government to Aburoshni films.

In her order, the judge said the film makes it clear that it was only a work of fiction. In fact, the leaders of the Christian Community note with approval that the claim made in the book that all description, artwork, artifacts, documents, recorded statements in the novel are accurate and eschewed in the film, where straightaway it was claimed that the entire work was fiction.

It should be noted just a day prior to the impugned order, the petitioner submitted a representation to the Chief Minister bringing to his notice, the events that culminated in the grant of certificate and offered to show the film to the authorities concerned and members of the Christian Community if need be and sought with all respect, the State Government support in releasing the film in the state.

Without reference to any of these the order was passed extracting the language of the section and 'fluffing' it up by stating that the sensiblities of a large section of people had been offended. It would be dangerous to allow the state to curb the right to freedom of expression as artistic expression may be asphyxiated by law if a petulant group of self appointed censors prescribe the paradigms for suspending the exhibition of the film which has got the approval of the Censor Board.

The fact that the Censor Board was a high power body with a statutory mandate to grant certificate for the film was not in dispute. So it was the duty of the court to protect the petitioner, the judge added.

The judge said the objection of the state for judicial scrutiny of the impugned order was restricted and that merely because the petitioner claims that his fundamental right was offended one cannot widen the scope of judicial review must be rejected. If this court were to tie its hands only because the order states that the local authority has exercised his power under section 13 (1) of the Cinemotographic Act, then it would give the local authority a wide and untrammelled power to sit over the decision taken by the expert body which grants certificate in accordance with provisions of the Act.

The provisions of the Act does not make the impugned order automatically immune from judicial scrutiny. The case of the state was that the restriction imposed was reasonable. ''Therefore straightaway we must take it as tacidly accepted that the fundamental right of the petitioner have been placed under restriction,'' the judge added.

The judge said by no stretch of imagination ''can we say in this case that the effect of the movie was intrinsically dangerous to public interest.'' The issue was whether the petitioner's right to freedom of expression and a equally person's right to see the film can be curtailed by the state ostensibly on the ground that a section of people does not accept that the petitioners have no such freedom of expression. The issue was whether state was bound to protect the persons whose fundamental right was sought to be curtailed by people, who threaten to breach peace or whether the state will mutely watch such threats. All these issues must be answered in favour of the petitioner, the judge added.

The judge said the impugned order clearly violates the petitioner's right of freedom of expression. If the court finds that the claimed right was entitled to protection as a fundamental right then the law infringing it must satisfy the compelling state interest test. The impugned order must be quashed since it does not satisfy the compelling state interest test.

When highly respected members of the Christian community saw the film and have not expressed any apprehension that the film was likely to incite such feeling as would result in breach of peace and the Censor Board also certified that the film worthy of being exhibited, the compulsion that forced the state to pass the impugned order was inexplicable and does not satisfy the violation of the fundamental right of the petitioner, the judge added.

The judge said, according to the state there were materials to show that there would be breach of peace if the film was exhibited. The inablity of the state to maintain law and order or to avert violation of breach of peace can never be a ground to throttle the fundamental right guaranted to the petitioner under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution.

When the state has duty to prevent all threats of demonstration and procession, which amount to intimidating the right of freedom of expression, it cannot plead its inablity to handle breach of peace if and when the need arises. The suspension of the exhibition of the film was an assertion of power exercised by self appointed arbiters of what can be exhibited and what cannot be exhibited, who may be officers of the state or members of the public representing the particular group and the state failed to justify the impugned order.

The state owes duty not to please these persons who threaten such breach of peace but to protect those persons whose fundamental rights are threatened to be violated, the judge added.


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