New Delhi, September 20
Can lawmakers claim immunity from prosecution for taking bribes for voting in the House? Twentyfive years after a five-judge Constitution Bench in PV Narasimha Rao’s case ruled that a lawmaker was immune to prosecution even if he/she took money to vote on the floor of the House, the Supreme Court on Wednesday referred the issue to a seven-judge Constitution Bench to reconsider the correctness of the 1998 judgment.
“This enumeration of the legal position indicates that the decision in the Narasimha Rao case is wrong. The only question is: Should we wait for it to arise at some time in future or lay down a law…We must not also ignore that if it also furthers public morality on the part of our elected representatives, then we should not defer our decision to some uncertain day in the future,” a five-judge Bench led by CJI DY Chandrachud said.
“The correctness of view propounded in majority of the Narasimha Rao case needs to be dealt with,” it added. The reference order came after senior advocate and amicus curiae PS Patwalia submitted that a lawmaker couldn’t claim immunity from prosecution for taking bribes for voting or making a speech in the House. “It’s too important an issue to be left like that,” Patwalia said, urging the matter to be sent to a larger Bench.
The Bench chose to ignore the suggestions of Attorney General R Venkataramani and senior counsel Raju Ramachandran (representing the petitioner) who submitted that it was not needed to get into the constitutional question as the case in hand didn’t warrant it.
“This case must rest on its own facts… Prosecution must continue,” Venkataramani said, adding there was no question was any protection under Article 194 of the Constitution as the act in question didn’t relate to anything said or any vote given in the House.
The reference order came while dealing with an important questions of law relating to parliamentary privilege under Article 105 and Article 194 of the Constitution referred to it by a three-judge Bench headed by then CJI Ranjan Gogoi on March 7, 2019. The case related to JMM legislator Sita Soren’s plea claiming protection under the top court’s ruling in Narasimha Rao’s case after being accused of taking a bribe during a Rajya Sabha election.
According to Article 105(2), “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.”
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