Law and lawmakers: On criminal acts and legislative privilege

  • IASbaba
  • July 31, 2021
  • 0
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  • GS-2: Parliament and State legislatures—conduct of business 

Law and lawmakers: On criminal acts and legislative privilege

Context: Recently, Supreme Court ruled that legislative privilege cannot be extended to provide legal immunity to criminal acts committed by lawmakers in Legislature.

The privileges and immunities enjoyed by the MPs and MLAs include:

  1. Freedom of speech in the house which means they cannot be prosecuted for saying or doing anything in the house.
  2. They have the freedom from arrest 40 days prior or after a session of legislature or during the session or from the premises of the legislature without the permission of the house.
  3. The legislature has the power to regulate its internal affairs — that covers the behaviour including disruptions, vandalism and violence — of the house. Police or courts cannot interfere.

However, the members can be punished for the breach of privileges by the house itself. Punishment includes imprisonment, fine or suspension.

Brief Background of the Case

  • The case relates to criminal prosecution against six MLAs of the Left Democratic Front (LDF).
  • They were being prosecuted for creating ruckus in Kerala Assembly in 2015 (when they were in opposition).
  • The Kerala government, when LDF came to power, moved to withdraw the cases against them. 
    • Kerala State government argued that the criminal prosecution of MLAs was not sustainable because the acts committed by them on the floor of assembly are protected by legislative privileges under Article 194 of the Constitution 
  • The recent SC judgement has denied this permission to withdraw the cases.
  • Supreme Court ruled elected representatives could no longer go scot-free for acts of vandalism and violence committed inside a house claiming immunity provided under the Constitution.
  • The change is a Supreme Court’s judgment. It does not directly deal with Parliament but with state legislatures 

Judgment assumes National Significance because

SC made certain observations that may form the behavioural guide for all elected representatives including the MPs & MLAs

  • “The destruction of property in the assembly cannot be equated to freedom of speech in the house”
  • An alleged act of destroying public property within the House cannot be considered “essential” for their legislative functions.
  • “Privileges and immunity are not a gateway to claim exemptions from criminal law and that would be a betrayal to the citizens.”
  • “The purpose of bestowing privileges on legislators is to enable them to perform their legislative functions without hindrance or without fear or favour. Legislators should act within the parameters of the public trust imposed on them to do their duties.”

Way Ahead

  • Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairperson Harivansh had, in 2020, mooted an idea of evolving a ‘Parliament Disruption Index’. The idea had emerged at the conference of presiding offices of legislative bodies in Dehradun on November 2019 in the backdrop of increasing disruptions in Parliament.
  • In the Lok Sabha, some members proposed automatic suspension of members who cause disruption and rush to the Well of the House. But the proposals are still in a nascent stage.

Connecting the dots:

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