Speedy disposal of cases against lawmakers: What SC guidelines on the matter say
Context- The Supreme Court issued guidelines on Thursday (November 9) to monitor the speedy disposal of criminal cases against Members of Parliament (MPs) and Members of Legislative Assemblies (MLAs).
(Credits- The Times of India)
Among the guidelines formulated for the “expeditious disposal” of such cases, the court called on the chief justices of various high courts across the country to set up a “special bench” to review and monitor the progress of criminal cases against lawmakers.
What is this case?
- The directions were given by a CJI DY Chandrachud-led bench while acting on a plea filed by advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay.
- The plea filed in August 2016 sought speedy disposal of cases involving lawmakers. It also sought a lifetime ban on convicted politicians, including sitting legislators, from contesting elections rather than subjecting them to the six-year ban, as laid down under Section 8(3) of the Representation of People Act, 1951.
- Section 8 of the RP Act, 1951, mainly deals with the disqualification of lawmakers on conviction for certain offences.
What does the RP Act say?
- Introduced by Dr BR Ambedkar in the Parliament, the Representation of the People Act, 1951, provides for the conduct of elections to the houses of parliament and the legislatures of each state, the qualifications and disqualifications for membership of those houses, corrupt practices, and other offences taking place at or in connection with the elections.
- Although there are several provisions that deal with disqualification under the RPA, Section 8 specifically deals with disqualification of legislators on conviction for offences like promoting enmity between two groups, bribery, and undue influence, along with hoarding, profiteering, or adulteration of food or drugs.
- Essentially, section 8(3) imposes a six-year ban on persons convicted of offences with a minimum two-year sentence. However, Upadhyay sought to replace with a “lifetime ban” in his plea .
- While the top court in its ruling addressed the first aspect of Upadhyay’s plea seeking speedy disposal of cases against MPs and MLAs, it kept open the issue of replacing the 6-year ban with a lifetime one.
What did the court rule?
- The bench, also comprising Justices PS Narasimha and Manoj Misra, said that the “confidence and trust of the constituency in their political representative” is necessary for the effective functioning of a parliamentary democracy.
- Emphasising the impact of such cases on our “political democracy”, the court said that every effort should be made to take them up on priority and decide them expeditiously.
- Following this, the bench laid down guidelines for monitoring the early disposal of cases against lawmakers.
- Among these was the registration of suo motu cases by the chief justices of various high courts across the country to monitor the quick disposal of pending criminal cases against legislators.
- Adding that such cases can be heard by a CJ-led special bench or a bench designated by her, the court said that such cases can also be listed at regular intervals, if necessary. The special bench may also call upon the advocate general or prosecutor to assist the court
- Stating that it would be difficult to lay down uniform guidelines for trial courts across the country to dispose of such cases, the court left it to the high court to devise measures to effectively monitor such cases.
- Further, the court said that priority shall be given to cases against lawmakers that are punishable with death or life imprisonment. Besides this, cases punishable with 5 years imprisonment or more will also be prioritised.
- The court also ruled that HCs can call upon the Principal District and Sessions Judge to take on the responsibility of allocating “subject cases” to such courts, as considered appropriate. The HCs can also ask the lower court judges to send reports at timely intervals, the court said.
- Further, trial courts cannot adjourn such cases unless there are rare and compelling reasons for the same, the court said.
- Sufficient infrastructure facilities and the adoption of technology should also be ensured for these designated courts by the principal district and session judges.
- Besides this, the HCs were directed to create an “independent tab” on their website with district-wise information about the details of such cases, including the year, at what stage the proceedings are, etc.
Conclusion- In its 2015 ruling in “Public Interest Foundation vs. Union of India,” the top court directed that trials of sitting legislators facing charges against them for offences relating to Section 8 of the RP Act should be concluded “as speedily and expeditiously” as possible. Adding that the trial’s duration cannot exceed one year from the date on which the charges were framed, the court had also suggested conducting the trials on a “day-to-day” basis.
Syllabus- GS-2; Parliament
Source- Indian Express