A Member of Parliament moved a Breach of Privilege Motion with the Lok Sabha Speaker against top police officials in Kolkata and Howrah for “manhandling, assaulting and obstructing him and two others from performing their duties as MPs”.
• 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.
• According to the Constitution, the powers, privileges and immunities of Parliament and MP's are to be defined by Parliament. No law has so far been enacted in this respect. In the absence of any such law, it continues to be governed by British Parliamentary conventions.
• A breach of privilege is a violation of any of the privileges of MPs, or the House. Among other things, any action 'casting reflections' on MPs, parliament or its committees; could be considered breach of privilege. This may include publishing of news items, editorials or statements made in newspaper, magazine, TV interviews or in public speeches.
• There have been several such cases. In 1967, two people were held to be in contempt of Rajya Sabha, for having thrown leaflets from the visitors' gallery. In 1983, one person was held in breach for shouting slogans and throwing chappals from the visitors' gallery.
List of Parliamentary Privileges
Note that they are not yet codified.
The privileges belonging to each House of Parliament collectively are:
It has the right to publish its reports, debates and proceedings and also the right to prohibit others from publishing the same.
It can exclude strangers from its proceedings and hold secret sittings to discuss some important matters.
It can make rules to regulate its own procedure and the conduct of its business and to adjudicate upon such matters.
It can punish members as well as outsiders for breach of its privileges or its contempt by reprimand, admonition or imprisonment (also suspension or expulsion, in case of members).
It has the right to receive immediate information of the arrest, detention, conviction, imprisonment and release of a member.
It can institute inquiries and order the attendance of witnesses and send for relevant papers and records.
The courts are prohibited to inquire into the proceedings of a House or its committees.
No person (either a member or outsider) can be arrested, and no legal process (civil or criminal) can be served within the precincts of the House without the permission of the presiding officer.
The privileges belonging to the members individually are:
They cannot be arrested during the session of Parliament and 40 days before the beginning and 40 days after the end of a session. This privilege is available only in civil cases and not in criminal cases or preventive detention cases.
They have freedom of speech in Parliament. No member is liable to any proceedings in any court for anything said or any vote given by him in Parliament or its committees. This freedom is subject to the provisions of the Constitution and to the rules and standing orders regulating the procedure of Parliament.
They are exempted from jury service. They can refuse to give evidence and appear as a witness in a case pending in a court when Parliament is in session.
What is the punishment in case of breach of privilege or contempt of the House?
The house can ensure attendance of the offending person.
The person can be given a warning and let go or be sent to prison as the case may be.
In the case of throwing leaflets and chappal, the offending individuals were sentenced to simple imprisonment.
In the 2007 case of breach of privilege against Ambassador Ronen Sen, the Lok Sabha Committee on privileges held that the phrase "headless chicken" was not used by Sen in respect of MPs or politicians. No action was taken against him.
In 2008, an editor of an Urdu weekly referred to the deputy chairman of Rajya Sabha as a "coward" attributing motives to a decision taken by him. The privileges committee held the editor guilty of breach of privilege. The committee instead of recommending punishment stated that, “it would be better if the House saves its own dignity by not giving undue importance to such irresponsible articles published with the sole intention of gaining cheap publicity.”
Legislators are quick at claiming legislative privileges but forget that their behaviour in the August House also bears strict scrutiny. The Assembly and Parliament are the sacred grounds of democracy where language and decorum matter. And, to be a member of such institutions require some ethics.Legislative privileges don’t come as a matter of right. They are earned, above all by the use of sanitized language and behaviour.
PEPPER IT WITH
Articles 79- 88 of the Indian Constitution, Schedule X of the Constitution, Contempt of the House