Constitutional Immunity of Legislators: A Legal Conundrum
An in-depth analysis of the constitutional provisions, landmark judgments, and the ongoing scrutiny by the Supreme Court
The Indian Constitution, under Articles 105 and 194, provides certain powers, privileges, and immunities to the members of Parliament and State Legislatures respectively. These articles have been a subject of intense legal scrutiny due to their implications on the accountability of Immunity of Legislators.
Constitutional Provisions for the Immunity of Legislators
Article 105 states:
- Subject to the provisions of this Constitution and to the rules and standing orders regulating the procedure of Parliament, there shall be freedom of speech in Parliament.
- No member of Parliament shall be liable to any proceedings in any court in respect of anything said or any vote given by him in Parliament or any committee thereof, and no person shall be so liable in respect of the publication by or under the authority of either House of Parliament of any report, paper, votes or proceedings.
Article 194 states:
- Subject to the provisions of this Constitution and to the rules and standing orders regulating the procedure of the Legislature, there shall be freedom of speech in the Legislature of every State.
- No member of the Legislature of a State shall be liable to any proceedings in any court in respect of anything said or any vote given by him in the Legislature or any committee thereof, and no person shall be so liable in respect of the publication by or under the authority of a House of such a Legislature of any report, paper, votes or proceedings.
In essence, these articles grant Immunity of legislators members from any proceedings in court for anything said or any vote given by them in their respective houses or committees.
Landmark Judgments regarding Immunity of Legislators
In the case P.V. Narasimha Rao vs State (CBI/SPE), it was held that parliamentarians enjoy immunity under Article 105 (2) against criminal prosecution with regards to their speech and votes in the House. However, this immunity does not extend to cases where bribery for making a speech or voting in a particular manner in the House is alleged. The judgment states:
“Whether by virtue of Article 105 of the Constitution a Member of Parliament can claim immunity from prosecution on a charge of bribery in a criminal court, and whether a Member of Parliament is a “public servant” falling within the purview of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1986 [hereinafter referred to as `the 1988 Act’]. These are the two questions which have come up for consideration before this bench in these matters.”
The court made a distinction between voting and non-voting members based on whether their actions (taking or offering bribes) were connected with their vote in Parliament. Members who took or offered bribes and voted on a motion are entitled to immunity from criminal prosecution for bribery conferred on them by Article 105 (2) because their actions were directly connected with their vote. On the other hand, members who took bribes but did not vote as promised were not granted immunity because their actions were seen as separate from their parliamentary duties.
In another case Sita Soren v. Union of India, Sita Soren, a member of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), was accused of accepting a bribe to vote for a particular candidate in the Rajya Sabha Elections. She sought protection under Article 194 (2) but her plea was dismissed by the Jharkhand High Court on grounds that she did not cast her vote in favor of the alleged bribe giver. The judgment states:“The appellant relied on the provisions of Article 194(2) of the Constitution. The High Court by the impugned judgement declined to quash the criminal proceedings on the ground that the appellant had not cast her vote in favour of the alleged bribe giver and thus, is not entitled to the protection under Article 194(2).”
Ongoing Scrutiny by Supreme Court
The Supreme Court has now taken an interest in correcting this by re-examining its previous judgment on this matter. A seven-judge bench constituted by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud seemed keen on modifying this judgment.
Conclusion of Constitutional Immunity of Legislators
The constitutional immunity granted to legislators has been a contentious issue due to its potential misuse. The ongoing scrutiny by Supreme Court is expected to bring clarity on this matter. It remains to be seen how this legal conundrum will be resolved while balancing legislative privileges with accountability.