Legislators do not have Immunity for Acts of Vandalism

Legislators do not have immunity from criminal law for acts of vandalism or destruction of public property inside state assemblies or in parliament, the Supreme Court ruled, clearing the decks for the prosecution of some of Kerala’s sitting and former MLAs who threw furniture and destroyed computers and microphones during a House proceeding in 2015.

Important Points:

The apex court also said that in this case, there is no need for the sanction of the speaker of the assembly to prosecute the legislators.

The bench of justices DY Chandrachud and MR Shah underlined that privileges and immunities to the legislators under the Constitution “are not gateways to claim exemptions from the general law of the land, particularly, as in this case, the criminal law which governs the action of every citizen.”

It held that any attempt to claim an exemption from the application of criminal law would be betraying the trust impressed on the character of elected representatives as the makers and enactors of the law. “No member of an elected legislature can claim either a privilege or an immunity to stand above the sanctions of the criminal law, which applies equally to all citizens,” said the bench, rejecting a plea by the Kerala government to let it drop the criminal charges against two sitting and four former MLAs.

The bench rejected the aspect of Parliamentary privileges, emphasizing that the privileges and immunity given to legislators inside the House was to create an environment in which they could perform their functions and discharge their duties freely and cannot be construed as a mark of status that made legislators stand on an unequal pedestal.

Parliamentary Privileges:

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.

Article 105 and Article 194 (freedom of speech in Parliament and right of publication of its proceedings), grant privileges or advantages to the members of the parliament so that they can perform their duties or can function properly without any hindrances.

When any of these rights and immunities are disregarded, the offence is called a breach of privilege and is punishable under law of Parliament.