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In the wake of recent legal developments, the traditional understanding of parliamentary privilege is under scrutiny, particularly concerning bribery allegations against Members of Parliament and Members of the Legislative Assembly. This article delves into the scope of parliamentary privilege, focusing on the recent judgment of the Supreme Court in “Sita Soren v. Union of India” and its implications for legislative accountability.

Through this article I am going to discuss the scope of parliamentary privilege in the context of bribery allegations against Members of Parliament and Members of the Legislative Assembly, this is in reference to a recent judgment of the Supreme Court “Sita Soren v. Union of India”, which reevaluates the immunity from prosecution conferred by Articles 105 and 194 of the Indian Constitution.

What do Articles 105 and 194 of the Indian Constitution say?

The purpose of Articles 105(2) and 194(2) is to ensure that members of Parliament and state legislatures can discharge their duties in an atmosphere of freedom without fearing the consequences that may ensue for how they speak or exercise their right to vote on the floor of the House

Given that it undermines the fundamental principles of democracy and public integrity, which are elaborated in this judgment, it is possible to argue for parliamentary privilege to be withdrawn against acts of bribery.

Parliamentary privilege is a long-recognized principle for the smooth functioning of legislative bodies by giving the elected representatives the freedom to speak out and debate on various issues. However, recent legal developments have called into question the traditional understanding of parliamentary privilege, especially in cases involving bribery allegations.

The Supreme Court’s verdict in Sita Soren v. Union of India, Criminal Appeal No. 451 of 2019, Dated: March 04, 2024 represents a significant departure from established norms with an emphasis on upholding honesty and ethical conduct in public life.

What is the scope of Parliamentary Privilege and what is the main issue?

Articles 105 and 194 of the Indian constitution grant MPs and MLAs, as I mentioned earlier, some immunity and privileges to enable them to perform their legislative functions without any fear of any offenses. These provisions shield MPs and MLAs “in respect of” anything said or done during parliamentary proceedings from being sued before a court. However, the interpretation of the phrase “in respect of” has been subject to debate, especially where allegations of bribery are involved.

Analysis of the case “Sita Soren v. Union of India”

The Supreme Court’s holding in Sita Soren v. Union of India gives an extensive evaluation on the context within which parliamentary privilege applies concerning charges that involve bribery. It clearly and firmly says that parliament cannot protect bribery as it undermines accountability and democratic values. It rejects the idea that even if bribes were made on behalf of parliamentary proceedings immunity should be given to MPs and MLAs so as not to prosecute them for such actions.

Judgment of the Supreme Court on the case Sita Soren v. Union of India brings attention to a two-fold test for parliamentary privilege based on its collective character and functional relationship with legislative functions. The court also held that parliamentary privilege is not a personal right but a common right for the smooth operation of the legislature in its entirety. Ensuring legislative bodies can execute their constitutional responsibilities without external interference or fear of prosecution is ensured by this collective type of privilege.

Furthermore, the court delved into the interpretation of the phrase “in respect of” as it pertains to parliamentary privilege. It focussed on the importance of construing this phrase in light of its purpose and intent, which is to uphold integrity in public life.

The interpretation must consider the broader principles of accountability, transparency, and the rule of law. Talking about the bribery allegations, the court clarified that acts of corruption cannot be shielded under the guise of parliamentary privilege which is given by the above articles of the constitution. Bribery undermines the foundational values of democracy and accountability, and therefore, cannot enjoy immunity from prosecution.

Moreover, in the case, the Supreme Court highlighted the distinction between the “Legislature” as a whole and the “House” of the Legislature. This distinction is crucial in understanding the scope of parliamentary privilege, as it extends beyond the proceedings of the House to encompass the broader functions of the Legislature.

The court emphasized that parliamentary privilege is not confined to debates and votes within the House but also encompasses legislative duties performed outside the formal sittings of the House. This broader scope underscores the significance of parliamentary privilege in facilitating the effective functioning of the legislative process as a whole.

the Supreme Court’s judgment in Sita Soren v. Union of India reaffirms the collective nature of parliamentary privilege, its functional relationship to legislative duties, and the broader scope that encompasses the entire Legislature. The court’s interpretation of the phrase “in respect of” underscores the importance of upholding integrity in public life and ensures that acts of corruption cannot enjoy immunity under the guise of parliamentary privilege.

This judgment sets a crucial precedent for holding elected representatives accountable and upholding the foundational values of democracy and transparency in public life.

What are the Implications for Legislative Accountability?

Sita Soren v Union of India’s judgment is a great example of legislative accountability and transparency, The significance of the judgment is that the court has made clear its stand against bribery, even for MP’s and MLA’s thus stressing the importance of honesty and integrity in public life. This decision restates the principle that everyone, including elected officials, should be bound by the law, and any corrupt practices must be prosecuted without exception.

What does bare act say?

188.11. The offense of bribery is agnostic to the performance of the agreed action and crystallizes on the exchange of illegal gratification. It does not matter whether the vote is cast in the agreed direction or if the vote is cast at all. The offence of bribery is complete at the point in time when the legislator accepts the bribe; and

188.12. The interpretation which has been placed on the issue in question in the judgment of the majority in PV Narasimha Rao (supra) results in a paradoxical outcome where a legislator is conferred with immunity when they accept a bribe and follow through by voting in the agreed direction. On the other hand, a legislator who agrees to accept a bribe, but eventually decides to vote independently will be prosecuted. Such an interpretation is contrary to the text and purpose of Articles 105 and 194.

189. The reference is answered in the above terms. Having answered the question of law raised by the Impugned Judgement of the High Court in this reference, the Criminal Appeal stands disposed of in the above terms.

In conclusion, this Supreme Court case, Sita Soren v Union of India is a significant step towards strengthening legislative accountability and upholding the rule of law. By outlining a clear stance in relation to parliamentary privilege concerning bribery cases the court reaffirms principles of moral uprightness and openness within public life. As such this article posits that the judgment sets an important precedent for holding elected representatives accountable for corruption-related offenses hence protecting the core values upon which democracy was founded.

Author Bio

CA Aman Rajput, Practicing Chartered Accountant Contact me at 8209604735 Email ID aman.rajput @ Area of practice:- Income tax, Audit, Company/LLP Incorporation or closure, Business consultancy, cost management, Financing, Startups, MSME, Finance, Virtual CFO and GST Introduct View Full Profile

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April 2024