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GS Mains Foundation 2018
GS Mains Foundation 2018
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Judicial Review of Parliamentary Privileges

Parliamentary privileges are the special right, advantage or benefit conferred on a particular person. It is a peculiar advantage or favour granted to one person as against another to do certain acts”. 

Parliamentary privileges can be classified into two broad categories:

1. those that are enjoyed by each House of Parliament collectively, and

2. those that are enjoyed by the members individually.

Article 105 of the Constitution relating to the "Powers, privileges and immunities of Parliament and its members" and Article 194 relating to the State Legislatures and their members contain certain enumerated privileges and powers while leaving room for a large number of uncodified and unenumerated privileges to continue. 

So, the privileges are discussed below:

Privileges of Parliamentarians

a) Freedom of Speech: According to the Indian Constitution, the members of Parliament enjoy freedom of speech and expression.

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.

b) 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 (Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha) and also when the House is in session. It also means that no member can be arrested within the precincts of the Parliament without the permission of the House to which he/she belongs. 

c) Exemption from attendance as witnesses: The members of Parliament also enjoy freedom from attendance as witnesses.

Privileges of Parliament (both the houses)

a) Right to publish debates and proceedings: Though by convention, the Parliament does not prohibit the press to publish its proceedings, yet technically the House has every such right to forbid such publication.

Again, while a member has the privilege of freedom of speech in Parliament, he has no right to publish it outside Parliament. 

Anyone violating this rule can be held responsible for any libelous matter it may contain under the common law rules.

b) Right to exclude strangers: Each house of Parliament enjoys the right to exclude strangers (no-members or visitors) from the galleries at any time and to resolve to debate with closed doors.

c) Right to punish members and outsiders for breach of its privileges : In India, the Parliament has been given punitive powers to punish those who are adjudged guilty of contempt of the House. Such contempt can be committed by the members of any House or any outsider. When a member of the House is involved for parliamentary misbehavior or commits contempt he can be expelled from the House.

d) Right to regulate the internal affairs of the House: The House has the right to regulate its internal affairs. A member of the House is free to say whatever he likes subject only to the internal discipline of the House or the Committee concerned.

Judicial review of Parliamentary Privileges

The issue of Parliamentary privileges places judiciary and legislature at the loggerhead. On one hand Parliament claims absolute sovereignty in the matters of its privileges, while on the other hand, the Judiciary as a custodian of Indian Constitution do not admit any restraint on its power of judicial review.

The Judiciary shoulders the primary responsibility of protecting the fundamental rights of the citizens in India, and if any citizen comes to it claiming violation of the same, the Judiciary has to entertain his petition, even though it might be related to Parliamentary privileges.

The question of Parliament-Court relationship often arises in privilege matters.

This involves several postulates: 

1. Who; whether the court or the Legislature, decides, whether a particular privilege claimed by a House exists or not?

 2. When a privilege is held to exist, Is House the final judge of how, in practice that privilege has to be exercised? 

3. Can the Courts go into the question of validity or propriety of committal by a House for its contempt or breach of privilege? 

4. 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.

In practice the legislature claims an absolute power to commit a person for its contempts and a general warrant, if issued by it, has a nature of conclusive and free from judicial scrutiny. The question however raised whether such a claim can be accepted in India which has written Constitution with fundament rights and doctrine of judicial review of legislative action as basic structure of the constitution. 

The Judiciary admits the fact that the Parliament is immune from its jurisdiction with regard to its internal matters, which itself is one of the necessary privilege of the Parliament. Though the Court has accepted this position in theory, in practice on various occasions judiciary has extended its adjudicators powers on the privileges of Parliament and State Legislatures. 

The Courts being the custodian of the Constitution and the fundamental rights of the citizens, were forced to decide the issues though, they were related to powers, privileges and immunities of the Parliament and concerned to internal proceedings of the Parliament. 

Conclusion

The Constitutional provision for the Parliamentary privileges is vague. In these circumstances the Indian Courts has expounded the law of Parliamentary privileges on various occasions to accord some concreteness to the issue.

Sometimes this resulted into deadlock between the Legislature and Judiciary, but somehow, Judiciary managed to maintain balance between its Constitutional function of expounding the Constitutional provision and the supremacy of Legislature in the matters of its own privileges.

The solution of the conflict between the Parliament and the judiciary on the issue of Parliamentary privileges lies in harmonizing the relationship between the two highest organs of the democracy and proper codifying of the Privileges to remove vague interpretations. 

 

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