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No Parliamentary Immunity for Vandalism: SC

  • 29 Jul 2021
  • 5 min read

Why in News

Recently, the Supreme Court has rejected Kerala government’s plea to withdraw criminal cases against its MLAs who were charged in the assembly.

  • The ruling Kerala government had appealed, to the Supreme Court, to withdraw a criminal case against their leaders who destroyed public property and disrupted a Budget speech on the State Assembly floor in 2015.

Key Points

  • Arguments of the Petitioner:
    • The Kerala Government had claimed parliamentary privilege, arguing that the incident occurred inside the Assembly hall.
    • They had claimed immunity from criminal prosecution.
    • They had argued that the prior sanction of the Speaker was necessary before the registration of an FIR by the police.
  • Highlights of the Judgement:
    • Parliamentary Privileges are Not Gateways of Immunity: The legislators who indulge in vandalism and general mayhem cannot claim parliamentary privilege and immunity from criminal prosecution.
    • Vandalism is Not Essential Legislative Action: Lawmakers possess privileges that are essential for exercising public functions.
      • Vandalism and destruction inside the House are not essential for exercising legislative function.
    • Vandalism and Right to Protest: Vandalism on the Assembly floor could not be equated with the right to protest by Opposition legislators.
    • Maintaining Public Trust: Legislators should act within the parameters of the public trust imposed on them to do their duty.
      • They had taken office swearing true allegiance to the Constitution.
      • They had to uphold the sovereignty and integrity of India and had to perform the duty imposed on them by the people who elected them.
  • About Parliamentary Privilege:
    • Parliamentary privileges are certain rights and immunities enjoyed by members of Parliament, individually and collectively, so that they can “effectively discharge their functions”.
      • When any of these rights and immunities are disregarded, the offence is called a breach of privilege and is punishable under law of Parliament.
    • The Constitution (Article 105 for Parliament and Article 194 for State Assemblies) mentions two privileges, i.e. freedom of speech in Parliament and right of publication of its proceedings.
    • Rule No 222 in Chapter 20 of the Lok Sabha Rule Book and correspondingly Rule 187 in Chapter 16 of the Rajya Sabha rulebook governs privilege.
  • Individualistic Privileges:
    • Freedom of Speech: The members of Parliament/state assembly enjoy freedom of speech and expression.
      • No member can be taken to task anywhere outside the four walls of the House (e.g. court of law) or cannot be discriminated against for expressing his/her views in the House and its Committees.
      • However, a member has the privilege of freedom of speech in Parliament, he has no right to publish it outside Parliament.
    • Freedom from Arrest: No member shall be arrested in a civil case 40 days before and after the adjournment of the House and also when the House is in session.
      • It also means that no member can be arrested within the precincts of the Parliament without the permission of the House to which he/she belongs.
    • Exemption from Attendance as Witnesses: The members of Parliament/ assemblies also enjoy freedom from attendance as witnesses.
  • Collective Privileges:
    • Right to Publish Debates and Proceedings: Parliament/Assembly can prohibit the press to publish its proceedings, when needed.
    • Right to exclude strangers: Parliament/Assembly enjoys the right to exclude strangers (no-members or visitors) from the galleries at any time and to resolve debate with closed doors.
    • Right to Punish Members and Outsiders: In India, the Parliament/Assembly has been given punitive powers to punish those who are judged guilty of contempt of the House.

Source: TH

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