Parliamentary privilege refers to rights and immunities enjoyed by Parliament as an institution and MPs in their individual capacity, without which they cannot discharge their functions as entrusted upon them by the Constitution
Types of Privileges
Privileges of Parliamentarians:
- Freedom of Speech:- No member can be taken to task anywhere outside the four walls of the House (e.g. court of law) or cannot be discriminated against for expressing his/her views in the House and its Committees.
- Freedom from Arrest:- It is understood that no member shall be arrested in a civil case 40 days before and after the adjournment of the House when the House is in session.
- Exemption from attendance as witnesses:- The members of Parliament also enjoy freedom from attendance as witnesses.
Privileges of Parliament:
- Right to publish debates and proceedings
- Right to exclude strangers
- Right to punish members and outsiders for breach of its privileges
- Right to regulate the internal affairs of the House
- Giving any misleading statement in the house
- Disturbance by the outsiders
- Any kind of assault on the members
- Writings or speeches about the character of the member
Breach of Privilege:
The House may impose the following punishments on a person found guilty of breach of privilege or contempt of the House.
- Imprisonment:- The period for which the House can commit an offender to prison for contempt or breach of its privileges is limited by the duration of the session of the House.
- Admonition or reprimand:- Example:- Shri S.C. Mukherjee, a Government officer was reprimanded for deliberately misrepresenting facts and giving false evidence before the Committee on Public Accounts. Shri R.K. Karanjia, Editor of a weekly magazine „Blitz‟ was reprimanded for publishing a libelous (wrong accusation) dispatch in his magazine.
- Punishment given to its own members:- If any contempt is committed by the members of the parliament then, he is to be punished by the house itself which could also result in the suspension of the member from the house.
Relation between Court and Assembly:
The question of Parliament-Court relationship often arises in privilege matters.
This involves several postulates:
- Who; whether the court or the Legislature, decides, whether a particular privilege claimed by a House exists or not?
- When a privilege is held to exist, Is House the final judge of how, in practice that privilege has to be exercised?
- Can the Courts go into the question of validity or propriety of committal by a House for its contempt or breach of privilege?
- Can the Courts interfere with the working of the Committee of privileges?
Case of West Bengal: The Speaker of the Assembly granted temporary permission to two communist M.L.As to remain on the Assembly premises in order to avoid arrest under the Preventive Detention Act. The court observed that general immunity cannot be conferred upon Members from arrest. The only immunity permitted by established practice in Britain is that the arrest cannot be effected within the precincts of the chamber when the House is actually sitting.
SC Case on Immunity enjoyed by Parliamentarian:
➔ Sita Soren VS UOI: Question before the Court was a legislator who accepts a bribe to vote in a certain manner and does not vote in that manner, enjoys parliamentary immunity from prosecution? The High Court replied:- As he has taken Bribe, but not voted as per this, he is immune and enjoys Parliamentary Immunity. The verdict was challenged before 5 judge bench in SC, and the status today is matter is before SC without any verdict.
➔ Raja Ram Pal VS Speaker of Lok Sabha: Immunity was restricted only to bribery ‘in relation to’ any vote, not other acts such as raising questions or allocating local area development funds.
➔ Tej Kiran Jain VS Sanjiva Reddy: Supreme Court laid down that no defamation proceedings could arise from speeches made by parliamentarians. It was held that the immunity under Article 105(2) is applicable to ‘anything’ said or ‘any’ vote.
Purpose of Parliamentary Proceedings:
➔ To ensure that people’s representatives enjoy complete freedom and that they perform their functions without any apprehension of legal liability.
Need for Codification:
- Unwise Use of Power of Privileges:- Karnataka assembly has sentenced Ravi Belagere of Hi Bangalore and Anil Raj of Yelahanka Voice for a year in jail for writing defamatory articles against legislators.
- Against Article 19:- Freedom of Speech and Expression is limited, then Why not Parliamentary Privileges.
- Privileges may also be used for shielding the criminal cases also.
- In India we follow Popular Sovereignty, not Parliamentary Sovereignty.
- The Constitution implicitly provided for a law to codify privileges and adopted the practice in the House of Commons as a temporary measure. The Constitution says that “In the absence of any law, such privileges would be the same as those enjoyed by the House of Commons at the commencement of the Constitution”. However, this provision was amended in 1978 to state that the privileges would be the same as enjoyed by the Houses of Indian Parliament as on the date of effect of that amendment.
- Codification would fix the exact limit of the breach of privileges after which no punishment can be inflicted.
- It would define precisely what constitutes and amounts to a breach of privileges.
- Relief from the court can be easily available if privileges are codified.
Codification is not required:
- It would challenge the Sovereignty of Indian Parliament.
- It would lead to judicial scrutiny of privileges especially when it comes in conflict
- with fundamental rights.
- It would make the evolution of new privileges very difficult.
- The members should have the freedom to discharge their functions, including the right to speak and vote within Parliament, without the fear and favour which requires these parliamentary privileges.
Resistance for Codification:
- Our legislators basically resist codification, because it would make the privileges subject to judicial scrutiny.
- Also, it would make evolution of new privileges not possible.