Criminal acts and legislative privilege

(GS PAPER-2, Parliamentary Functions

Source- Indian Express)

Context: 

Recently, the Apex Court ruled that legislative privilege cannot be dragged to provide legal immunity to criminal acts committed by parliamentarians in Legislature.

Background:

  • The case relates to criminal offences against six MLAs of the Left Democratic Front (LDF) was reported.

  • They were being prosecuted for making a ruckus in the Kerala Assembly in 2015 (when they were in opposition).

  • The Kerala government, when LDF came to power, moved to withdraw the charges against them. 

  • Kerala State government stated that the criminal prosecution of MLAs was not sustainable because the acts done by them on the floor of the legislature are protected by legislative privileges under Article 194 of the Constitution 

The privileges and immunities enjoyed by the MPs and MLAs are as follows:

  • Freedom of speech in the house means those people cannot be prosecuted for saying, doing or acting anything in the house.

  • They have the freedom from getting arrested 40 days prior to or after the session of the legislature or during the session or from the premises of the parliament without the permission of the house.

  • The legislature has the power to do regulation in its internal affairs that circumvent the behaviour including disruptions, vandalism and violence of the house. 

  • Police and courts cannot interfere in this.

  • The members can be punished for the breach of privileges by the house itself which includes imprisonment, fine or suspension.

Recent Apex court judgement has denied this permission to withdraw the cases:

  • The Supreme Court stated that elected representatives could no longer go scot-free for the acts of vandalism, crimes and violence committed inside the house claiming immunity provided under the Indian Constitution.

  • The Supreme Court’s judgment does not directly deal with Parliament but with state legislatures.

  • However, it  assumes National Significance because Apex court made certain findings that may form the behavioural guidance for all elected representatives including the MPs and the MLAs

  • The destruction and vandalism of property in the parliament can never be equated to freedom of speech in the chamber.

  • Alleged conduct of destroying public property inside the House cannot be considered important for their legislative functions.

  • “Privileges and immunity are not the gateways to ask for exemptions from criminal law and that would be a kind of betrayal to the citizens.”

  • “The basic objective of bestowing privileges on legislators is to make them able to perform their legislative and parliamentary functions without any hindrance or without any fear or favour. 

  • Legislators should work  within the prescribed parameters of the public trust imposed on them to perform their duties.”

Way Ahead

  • Deputy Chairperson of Rajya Sabha Harivansh had, in 2020, presented an idea of emerging a ‘Parliament Disruption Index’. 

  • The idea had been proposed at the conference of presiding offices of legislative bodies in Dehradun (Uttarakhand) in November 2019 in the backdrop of growing disruptions in Parliament.

  • In the Lower house, some members have proposed automatic suspension of members who create disruption and rush to the well of the House but the proposals are still in the nascent stage.

Download Plutus IAS Daily Current Affairs of 2nd August 2021