Can Ethics Committee procedure override natural justice? Cong MP Manish Tewari asks in Lok Sabha

"We are not sitting as MPs but as judges to decide the fate of our colleague," the MP told speaker Om Birla

Congress MP Manish Tewari speaking in the Lok Sabha on Friday (photo: IANS)
Congress MP Manish Tewari speaking in the Lok Sabha on Friday (photo: IANS)


A war of words erupted in the Lok Sabha on Friday between speaker Om Birla and Congress member Manish Tewari after the latter said all the members were sitting as judge and jury to decide the fate of a colleague. At this, Birla remarked that he was the speaker of the house and not a judge.

The argument ensued when Birla took the ethics committee report recommending the expulsion of Trinamool Congress (TMC) MP Mahua Moitra in an alleged cash for query charge for discussion in the House.

Speaking in favour of Moitra, Tewari said: "It's been 31 years since I started practicing law. But for the first time, I am standing to debate without going through the documents. It is shocking that at 12 noon we got the report, and we start discussing the same at 2.00 pm."

Citing Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, the leader of the Congress in the house, Tewari said: "He (Chowdhury) truly said the heavens would not have fallen had we given three to four days to take cognizance of this report and then presented our opinions before the house, because it is going to make a decision on a very sensitive matter."

The MP from Punjab's Anandpur Sahib said: "My first question is, can the procedure of the Ethics Committee override the fundamental principle of natural justice which is the organising principle of every justice system in the world? I am saying this because from what we read in the newspaper, the one who has been made an accused and had charges levelled against her, was not able to complete her deposition. What kind of procedure is this, what kind of justice system is this?

"The fundamental principle of natural justice system is that (the accused) is given full opportunity to present his or her case. And one should get the opportunity to cross examine the people who have levelled the allegations. And as far as I know, Moitra was not allowed to cross examine the others," he said.

Tewari also said he studied rule 316 (D), and it says the recomendations of the committee shall be presented in the form of a report. "I want to ask a fundamental question: there is a difference in conviction and sentencing. The committee can recommend if one is guilty or innocent, but it cannot recommend punishment. That power lies with the house," he noted.

"It is this house which is sitting as jury has the power to decide the quantum of punishment. Therefore, the recommendation of the committee is fundamentally flawed in my submission."

Tewari further said on Friday, all parties were issued a three-line whip. "Today, this house is sitting as judge and jury. In an impeachment proceeding, or when you are considering the report of the Privileges Committee or Ethics Committee, can a party direct to vote in a particular way, can a whip be issued? This is like directing a judge to decide a matter in a particular manner," he pointed out.

"This is a complete travesty of justice. Today we are not sitting as ordinary members of the House because we are sitting as judges and jury in order to decide the fate of one of our colleagues," Tewari said.

Following the mention of judge and jury multiple times by the Congress leader, the speaker intervened and asked: "Are you arguing in the house or in court?"

Tewari retorted that it was a court today. "We are not sitting as MPs but as judges to decide the fate of our colleague."

Birla objected. "This is Parliament and not a court. You are senior and you should look at what you are saying. I am not a judge. I am a speaker."

Tewari then said: "Speaker, I have obeyed all your orders and decisions in the house in the last four-and-a-half years, but I am differing with you today because we are sitting here as judges and jury to decide the fate of one of our colleagues."

Birla again said there was a difference between the house and the judiciary. "Here, I am not taking the decision as the decision is being taken by the members of the house. Don't give the wrong impression. I am the speaker, not a judge; these things go in the report," he remarked.

Tewari again said the whip needs to be withdrawn, saying: "According to 105(2), statements made within the house are granted immunity. Are we supposed to disregard the Constitution?"

Chowdhury had earlier said the report was tabled after noon and the discussion was started at 2.00 pm.

He said the report has 106 pages, and there are many annexures and other documents which add up to more than 400 pages, which no one would be able to go through in two hours.

"It is not possible for a human to read the entire report. Can anyone go through all the pages in two hours? I have demanded that at least three to four days time should be given for a detailed discussion on the report in the house. This issue will have a big impact and will prove to be an example. Even the court asks for a last wish as part of natural justice," he said.

Chowdhury had added that Moitra should get a chance to speak. "The new house should not begin a dark chapter. A house which targets women is not good," he said.

However, Union parliamentary affairs minister Prahlad Joshi objected to his remarks.

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