SC conveys its determination on constitutionality of Online Safety Bill

SC conveys its determination on constitutionality of Online Safety Bill

November 7, 2023   10:15 am

The Supreme Court’s determination on the constitutionality of the Online Safety Bill and its provisions was communicated to the parliament this morning (Nov. 07) by Deputy Speaker Ajith Rajapakse.

In its determination, the Supreme Court has noted that the Online Safety Bill could be passed by a simple majority in the parliament following Committee Stage amendments on certain clauses.

Pursuant to Article 84(2) of the Constitution, Clauses 3, 5, 7, 9, 11,12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 36, 37, 42, 45, 53, and 56 should be passed by a special majority in the parliament. 

However, if these clauses are amended during the Committee Stage, the Online Safety Bill can be passed by a simple majority in the parliament, the Supreme Court has said further.

As such, the Supreme Court has arrived at the conclusion that subject to the aforementioned particulars, neither the Online Safety Bill nor its provisions are inconsistent with the Constitution.

On October 19, the Supreme Court concluded deliberation of the petitions filed challenging the much-debated Online Safety Bill, which had been tabled in the parliament by the government recently. The hearings were held before the three-member Supreme Court judge bench consisting of Justices Priyantha Jayawardena, Achala Vengapulli and Shiran Gunaratne.

Accordingly, the judge bench’s confidential verdict regarding the relevant petitions was communicated to President Ranil Wickremesinghe and Speaker of Parliament Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena.

During the October 18 parliamentary session, the Speaker revealed that 45 petitions in total had been filed against the proposed legislation.

Petitions were filed by many parties including social activist and independent journalist Tharindu Uduwaragedara; Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith; the Socialist Youth Union (SYU); General Secretary of Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MP Ranjith Madduma Bandara; SJB’s Rehan Jayawickrama; former BASL presidents Saliya Peiris and Geoffrey Alagaratnam; National People’s Power (NPP) MP Dr. Harini Amarasuriya and Freedom People’s Congress (FPC) member Prof. G.L. Peiris, challenging various provisions included in the legislation, alleging that the relevant bill is in violation of the fundamental rights of freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the Constitution.

The petitioners had sought an order determining that if the relevant bill were to be passed, it must be approved by a two-thirds majority in parliament, followed by a referendum.

The Online Safety Bill, published in the government gazette on September 18, aims to ban online communication of certain statements in the country, prevent the use of online accounts – both authentic and inauthentic – for the use of prohibited purposes, to suppress the financing and other support of communication of false statements and other related matters.

However, the Bill has come under fire for some of its problematic aspects, with the Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) which consists of multiple tech giants including Apple, Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Yahoo, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), and the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) voicing concerns.

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