Supreme Court Refuses Legal Concession to MPs for Bribe-Linked Speeches: Overturns 26-Year-Old Decision

The constitutional bench of the Supreme Court, comprising seven judges, has overturned its previous ruling in cases where members of parliament and legislative assemblies were granted immunity for delivering speeches or participating in votes after being involved in criminal activities. The bench emphasized that under no circumstances should MPs and MLAs be exempted from legal action. 

This decision marks a significant shift in the legal landscape, signaling a more stringent approach towards ensuring accountability among elected representatives. It underscores the principle that no individual, regardless of their position, should be above the law, thereby reaffirming the democratic values of transparency and justice within the country’s legislative framework.

Chief Justice of India Rejects PV Narasimha Rao’s Decision Granting Immunity to MPs and MLAs for Delivering Speeches or Casting Votes

The Chief Justice of India has stated that the Supreme Court does not agree with the decision made during PV Narasimha Rao’s tenure, which granted immunity to members of parliament and legislative assemblies for delivering speeches or participating in votes while under criminal investigation. In 1998, a constitutional bench of five judges had reached a 3:2 majority decision stating that representatives could not be prosecuted in such cases. 

However, the current stance indicates a departure from that interpretation, suggesting that lawmakers can indeed face legal proceedings even while discharging their duties within the house. This shift underscores the evolving judicial perspective on the accountability of elected officials and reaffirms the principle that public representatives are not exempt from legal scrutiny, even in the course of legislative activities.

Supreme Court Bench Reviews Case with Chief Justice Devay Chandrachud and Six Other Justices

Chief Justice Devay Chandrachud, along with Justices A.S. Bopanna, M.M. Sundresh, P.S. Narsimha, J.B. Pardiwala, Sanjay Kumar, and Manoj Mishra, constituted the seven-judge bench to hear the case. The bench decided to reconsider its ruling on the verdict dated October 5, 2023, regarding the judgment from 1998. The reconsideration pertains to the JMM bribery scandal, revisiting the Supreme Court’s decision after 25 years.

Central Government’s Argument: No Immunity for MPs and MLAs in Contempt Cases

During the hearing in October, the central government asserted before the Supreme Court that the issue of immunity from prosecution for contempt could not arise at any time during the proceedings. 

The government clarified that parliamentary privilege does not entail shielding any member of parliament or legislative assembly from legal accountability. During the proceedings, the Supreme Court rejected a proposal to consider derogatory remarks made within the parliament as contempt of court.

Supreme Court Rejects Proposal: MPs and MLAs Not Immune from Legal Proceedings for Contemptuous Acts

During the proceedings, a proposal was presented before the Supreme Court asserting that members of parliament and legislative assemblies should not be exempt from legal consequences, including contempt, for any actions, including making derogatory remarks, within the parliament and state assemblies. The court ruled that individuals engaged in criminal conspiracies cannot evade legal action by carrying out their activities within the premises of the legislature.

The Supreme Court emphasized that parliamentarians and members of legislative assemblies cannot be prosecuted for any statements made within the premises of the house. They enjoy complete freedom of speech while within the confines of the parliament or assembly.

Allegations of Vote Manipulation against Sita Soren in Rajya Sabha

Sita Soren is facing accusations of vote manipulation during the 2012 Rajya Sabha elections. She had defended herself citing Article 194(2) of the Constitution, claiming immunity for ‘anything said or any vote given’ within the parliament premises.

Senior advocate Raju Ramchandran had represented Sita Soren in the Supreme Court. He referenced the derogatory remarks made against BJP MP Ramesh Bidhuri by BSP MP Danish Ali in the Lok Sabha, stating that immunity should be absolute for any actions, be it voting or speech-related, even if they involve manipulation or conspiracy.

Sita Soren’s Case Unrelated to Parliamentary Proceedings

Attorney General R. Venkataramani had treated Sita Soren’s case separately, stating that there is no connection between her case and the parliamentary proceedings. He emphasized that the case against Sita Soren pertains to legal matters regarding her involvement in the Rajya Sabha elections. Therefore, her case falls under the jurisdiction of the judiciary, unrelated to her parliamentary duties or voting procedures in the Rajya Sabha.

Solicitor General’s Argument: Launching for Votes is a Non-Parliamentary Matter

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta argued that under Articles 105(2) and 194(2), launching can never grant immunity. Even if the offense is related to parliamentary proceedings such as speech or voting, it is subject to non-parliamentary proceedings. The Supreme Court has reserved its decision in this matter after two days of proceedings, ensuring its safekeeping.

Niyati Rao

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