Supreme Court recommends elimination of ‘public commotion’ clause in Telecom Bill, in line with LIRNEasia Chair’s recommendations

Posted on June 29, 2024  /  0 Comments

The Supreme Court of Sri Lanka recently ruled that several sections of the proposed Telecommunications Amendment Bill are inconsistent with the country’s Constitution. This decision comes after significant opposition and criticism from experts, including LIRNEasia Chair Prof. Rohan Samarajiva, who had been vocal about the potential threats to democratic values posed by certain provisions in the bill.

One of the most controversial aspects of the bill was the proposed Section 59A, which aimed to introduce a new offence related to telecommunications.

The section stated:

“Every person who, wilfully makes a telephone call or sends or transmits a message using a telephone, with the intention of causing public commotion or disrupting public tranquillity commits an offence and shall on conviction be liable to a fine not exceeding one million rupees or to an imprisonment of either description for a term not exceeding three months or to both such fine and imprisonment and in the event of the offence being committed continuously, to a fine of one thousand five hundred rupees for each day on which the offence is so committed or an imprisonment of either description for a term not exceeding six months or to both such fine and imprisonment.”

Prof. Samarajiva, in newspaper articles and television interviews, questioned the necessity of this new provision, especially in light of the recently passed Online Safety Bill, which already addresses many telecommunications and internet-related crimes. He argued that the proposed section was unnecessarily vague and would place an undue burden on magistrates to determine what constitutes “public commotion.”

The Supreme Court agreed with these concerns, ruling that Section 59A was “clearly vague and creating an offence in such vague terms is inconsistent with Article 12(1) which stipulates right to equality of the Constitution.” The court determined that this section could only be validly passed with a special majority as provided for in Article 84(2) of the Constitution.

Importantly, the Supreme Court suggested that the inconsistency would cease if the proposed Section 59A were deleted completely from the bill. This ruling aligns with Prof. Samarajiva’s stance that such a provision is not necessary for a technical act like the Telecom Bill.

This development underscores the importance of expert analysis and public discourse in shaping legislation. It also highlights the role of the judiciary in safeguarding constitutional rights and ensuring that new laws do not infringe upon fundamental freedoms.

LIRNEasia will continue to monitor the progress of the Telecommunications Amendment Bill and provide analysis on its potential impacts on the telecommunications sector and broader society.

Read the full article published on Sunday Lankadeepa here.

Watch the full video interviews below.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *