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Justice Uday Umesh Lalit of the Supreme Court of India recently had occasion to offer elaborate perspectives on parliamentary privileges, saying that they have not been defined in last 50 years and may not be identified in near future.
Speaking at a lecture held at the Central Court in the Bombay High Court campus on the theme ‘Parliamentary Privileges and a Citizen’, Justice Lalit began his speech by remembering Mahatma Gandhi, architect of the Indian Constitution Dr. BR Ambedkar and Lokmanya Tilak, who was tried by the British Government in the same courtroom.
Commencing his address, Justice Lalit gave a brief idea on the concept of privileges of Members of Parliament or state legislatures.
“To quote it in very simple format, all those ideas which enable representatives to function smoothly, to enable the house to function without any hindrance or obstacle, it is a sum amalgamation of that which is referred to as privileges of house or the Parliament.”
At the outset, Justice Lalit referred to Article 105 of the Constitution of India, which provides the powers and privileges of the Houses of Parliament and of the members and committees.
In view of this, he noted that there are typical parallel provisions so far as houses of representatives in the states are concerned and Article 105 applies equally to the power of state legislatures.
Moreover, he referred to sub Article 2 of the Article 105 and observed,
“Sub Article 2 says no person shall be liable for anything done or anything spoken in the House. However, this shall be liable, as father of the Constitution (Dr. B R Ambedkar) says, naturally in court. But then Article 105 does not say that. However, we have an elaboration on this in constitutional debates. And therefore, it is a subject matter of discussion in most of the cases before the Supreme Court and High Courts.”
Justice Lalit went on to note,
“Article 105 also provides that Parliament shall have the right to define any of the privileges and said power lies with the Parliament. Similar power is enjoyed by the state legislature. However, parliamentary privileges have not been defined for last 50 years”
He then referred to cases decided by the Supreme Court pertaining to parliamentary privileges.
Taking a brief review of these cases, Justice Lalit said,
“Deduction of these cases is very clear. Though we started on a note that perhaps right of freedom of expression under Article 19 (1) (a) may not be available to citizen, the Supreme Court earlier had said that it will be available if there is a codified law. But the fallout is very clear that there is no such definition for last 50 years and it may not even be in near future.”
Moreover, in view of the consideration of such cases by the courts of law, Justice Lalit went on to note,
“Secondly, the extent and existence of privileges and existence can be considered by the Court. Individual actions perhaps may not be touched. But on a normative level, where there is a privilege or not, the matter can be considered by the Court.”
Justice Lalit further stressed upon the importance of the judgment in the Captain Amarinder Singh case and said,
“In the Amarinder Singh case, the Supreme Court said resolution of the Vidhan Sabha can be quashed, which is a great right available to the citizen now. Before this case, there was no relief granted by Supreme Court to citizens. There was a relief in the Keshav Singh case, however it was for the judges of the High Court who had entertained the matter while discharging their duties.”
Justice Lalit went on to note,
“…But the man at the receiving end of a privileged motion, either the member of the house or a complete outsider was granted relief for the first time by the Supreme Court in Captain Amarinder Singh case.”
At the end, with respect to the rights of the citizen in terms of parliamentary privileges, Justice Lalit said,
“Three kinds of matters actually arise with respect to citizens. Firstly, your right under Article 19 (1) (a), secondly a right in case you are stated to be in breach of privilege and to what is the extent of challenge available to you, and thirdly, you may not be part of the breach of privilege, but you may get adversely commented upon in the house.
In the first two matters, there is a recognition by the Courts but not in the third matter. Perhaps, if we start recognising it, it will put too much of burden and it will be very cumbersome for proceedings in the House, since the idea of privileges is that the House must have complete freedom to discuss.”
The inaugural lecture was organised by Advocates’ Association of Western India (AAWI) and a legal collaborative DeBrief. Judges and senior lawyers of the Bombay High Court were present for the event.
Image Courtesy : DeBrief