SC orders lawmakers cannot claim immunity from prosecution, overrules 1998 Narsimha Rao Judgement

Image Source : REPRESENTATIONAL PIC Supreme Court of India

The Supreme Court pronounced its verdict today ( March 4) on whether MPs and MLAs enjoy immunity from prosecution for taking bribe to make a speech or cast a vote in legislature. A seven-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud gave the verdict, saying that an MP or MLA can’t claim immunity from prosecution on a charge of bribery in connection with the vote/speech in the Parliament/ Legislative Assembly.

Supreme Court’s seven-judge bench in its unanimous view overruled the 1998 PV Narasimha Roa judgment case which granted immunity to MPs/MLAs from prosecution to bribery for voting in Parliament.

The bench said they disagreed with the judgment in PV Narasimha and the judgment in PV Narasimha which grants immunity to legislators for allegedly bribery for casting a vote or speech has “wide ramifications and overruled”.

The top court had reserved its judgement on October 5, 2023. During the arguments, the Centre had submitted that bribery can never be a subject matter of immunity and a parliamentary privilege is not meant to place a lawmaker above law.

A host of lawyers including the Attorney General, the Solicitor General, and amicus curiae PS Patwalia, who was assisting the court in the matter argued the matter for two days before the court reserved the order. 

The seven-judge bench is reconsidering the judgement delivered by a five-judge bench of the apex court in 1998 in the JMM bribery case by which MPs and MLAs were granted immunity from prosecution for taking bribes to make a speech or vote in legislature.

The apex court revisited the judgement 25 years after the JMM bribery scandal rocked the country.

The top court, in the course of the hearing, said it will examine whether the immunity granted to lawmakers from prosecution for taking bribes to make a speech or vote in Parliament and state legislatures extends to them even if criminality is attached to their actions.

In 1998, a five-judge constitution bench had, in its majority verdict delivered in the PV Narasimha Rao versus CBI case, held that parliamentarians have immunity against criminal prosecution for any speech made and vote cast inside the House under Article 105(2) and Article 194(2) of the Constitution.

The issue came under the Supreme Court’s lens again in 2019, when a bench headed by then Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi was hearing an appeal filed by Sita Soren, JMM MLA from Jama and daughter-in-law of party chief Shibu Soren, who was an accused in the JMM bribery scandal.

The Justice Gogoi-led bench had referred to a five-judge bench the crucial question, noting it had “wide ramification” and was of “substantial public importance”.

Sita Soren was accused of taking bribes to vote for a particular candidate in the Rajya Sabha election in 2012. She had contended that the constitutional provision granting lawmakers immunity from prosecution, which saw her father-in-law being let off the hook in the JMM bribery scandal, be applied to her.

She had moved the apex court against the Jharkhand High Court order of February 17, 2014 refusing to quash the criminal case lodged against her.

The three-judge bench had then said it will revisit the SC verdict in the sensational JMM bribery case involving Shibu Soren, a former Jharkhand chief minister and ex-union minister, and four other party MPs who had accepted bribes to vote against the no-confidence motion threatening the survival of the P V Narasimha Rao government in 1993.

The Narasimha Rao government, which was in a minority, survived the no-confidence vote with their support.

The CBI registered a case against Soren and four other JMM Lok Sabha MPs but the Supreme Court quashed it citing immunity from prosecution they enjoyed under Article 105(2) of the Constitution.

(With PTI inputs)

Also read: Arvind Kejriwal sends reply to ED summons, asks for virtual meeting after March 12