No immunity from prosecution to MPs, MLAs for taking bribes to vote in legislature: SC

CJI said bribery is not protected by parliamentary privileges and the interpretation of the 1998 verdict is contrary to Articles 105 and 194 of the Constitution

Supreme Court of India (photo: National Herald archives)
Supreme Court of India (photo: National Herald archives)
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NH National Bureau

The Supreme Court on Monday held that MPs and MLAs do not enjoy immunity from prosecution for taking bribe to make a speech or cast a vote in the legislature.

A seven-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud unanimously overruled the 1998 verdict delivered by a five-judge bench in the JMM bribery case by which MPs and MLAs were granted immunity from prosecution for taking bribe to make a speech or vote in the legislature.

Pronouncing the verdict, the CJI said bribery is not protected by parliamentary privileges and the interpretation of the 1998 verdict is contrary to Articles 105 and 194 of the Constitution.

Articles 105 and 194 deal with the powers and privileges of MPs and MLAs in Parliament and legislative assemblies. The CJI, who read the operative part of the verdict for the bench, said that bribery is not immune under the articles as it erodes probity in public life.

Live Law reported that the apex court also noted that unlike the House of Commons in the United Kingdom, India does not have 'ancient and undoubted privileges' vested after a struggle between the Parliament and the monarch.

Privileges in pre-independence India were governed by statute in the face of a reluctant colonial government. This statutory privilege transitioned into a constitutional privilege after the commencement of the Constitution.

However, a legislator cannot claim immunity from prosecution on charges of bribery for a vote or a speech by relying on these constitutional provisions since it fails to fulfil the two-fold test of first, being tethered to the collective functioning of the House, and second, being necessary for the discharge of the essential duties of a legislator.

Live Law quoted the bench as saying, "Articles 105 and 194 of the Constitution seek to sustain an environment where debate and deliberation can take place within the legislature. This purpose is destroyed when a member is induced to vote or speak in a particular manner because of an act of bribery...Bribery is not rendered immune under Articles 105 or 194 because a member engaging in bribery indulges in a criminal act which is not essential for the function of casting a vote or giving a speech in the legislature. Corruption and bribery by members of the legislatures erode probity in public life...We hold that bribery is not protected by Parliamentary privileges."


It also held that the question of whether a claim to privilege in a particular case conforms to the Constitution is amenable to judicial review. The Court held that the offence of bribery as per the Prevention of Corruption Act is complete the moment the illegal gratification is taken and it is immaterial whether the legislator votes or gives a speech later in the house in terms of the bribe.

"The offence of bribery is agnostic to the performance of the aggrieved action and is crystallised on the exchange of illegal gratification. It does not matter whether the vote is cast in the aggrieved 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," the judgment authored by CJI DY Chandrachud was quoted by Live Law.

The Court also held that the PV Narasimha judgment resulted in a paradoxical situation where a legislator, who accepts a bribe and votes accordingly is protected whereas a legislator, who despite taking a bribe votes independently is prosecuted. This interpretation is against the letter and spirit of Articles 105 and 194 of the Constitution.

With inputs from PTI

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