SC bench to decide on immunity to bribed lawmakers

The Supreme Court. The file photo

The Supreme Court has ordered to set up a larger Constitution bench to decide if a lawmaker can take refuge under immunity clause to avoid criminal prosecution for voting in Parliament or Assembly after taking a bribe from some beneficiary.

A bench of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justices S Abdul Nazeer and Sanjiv Khanna made a reference to the CJI to form on the administrative side a larger bench, saying the matter was of "substantial public importance" and involved the "issue of wide ramifications".

This precise question related to culpability or immunity of a lawmaker was dealt with by a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court in 1998 in 'P V Narasimha Rao vs State' (CBI) (Jharkhand Mukti Morcha Bribery case of 1993).

Two judges on the bench took the view that the protection under Article 105(2)/194(2) of the Constitution and the immunity granted cannot extend to cases where bribery for making a speech or vote in a particular manner in the House is alleged.

The majority view while acutely conscious of the seriousness of the offence, felt that the wrongful act and the “sense of indignation” of the bench should not lead to a narrow construction of the constitutional provisions which may have the effect of impairing the guarantee to effective parliamentary participation and debate.

More than two decades after, a similar question arose before the top court as  Sita Soren, JMM chief Sibu Soren's daughter-in-law, questioned her prosecution on charges of bribery during the Rajya Sabha elections of 2012.

She challenged the validity of Jharkhand High Court's judgement of February 17, 2014, allowing her prosecution and declining to quash the order on taking cognisance of the bribery charge.

In her case, the high court noted, according to allegations, Soren did take money from one R K Agarwal but did not cast her vote in his favour, so she cannot claim any immunity.

Her act in Assembly of casting vote "will have no nexus with the alleged conspiracy and agreement under which she had received money", the high court said.

According to Article 194(2) of the Constitution, "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..."

Article 105(2) of the Constitution stated, "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."

In her plea, Soren sought a direction to nullify the criminal prosecution launched against her on a claim of immunity under Article 194(2) of the Constitution.

On March 15, a notice was issued for putting up Soren's case before a five-judge bench on March 27.

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SC bench to decide on immunity to bribed lawmakers

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