A 5 Judge Bench of the Supreme Court held that a person cannot be disqualified from membership in a legislative body on the mere framing of criminal charges against them.
On 25th September, the Court delivered its unanimous judgment. It ruled that it did not have the power to disqualify candidates from legislative bodies upon framing of charges:
In 2011, the Public Interest Foundation, a NGO, filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court to expand the grounds for disqualification of membership in Parliament/State Legislatures, under Article 32 of the Constitution. They asked the Court to disqualify candidates and legislators under the Representation of Peoples Act, 1951 (RP Act), who have serious criminal charges framed against them by a court. In addition, they asked the Court to disqualify candidates, who file false affidavits (see Section 33A of RP Act).
Currently, Section 8 of the RP Act deals with disqualification upon conviction, not charge framing, for certain offences. Under the Act, a person convicted for any offence under Sections 8(1), (2) and (3) stands disqualified from the date of conviction. None of these provisions disqualify a person upon framing of charges.
On 16th December 2013, a Division Bench of the Court with the then Chief Justice RM Lodha and Justice Shiva Kirti Singh requested the Law Commission to submit a report on the criminalisation of politics.
The 244th Report of the Law Commission found that due to long delays in the trial process, disqualification at the stage of conviction has been ineffective in curbing the criminalisation of politics. Hence, it recommended that the framing of charges should trigger electoral disqualification as it is judicially supervised and early in the trial process. Further, it recommended that filing a false affidavit under Section 125A of the RP Act should be a ground for disqualification under Section 8(1) of the RP Act.
On 8th March 2016, a Division Bench of three-judges referred the matter to be heard by a Constitution Bench. This Bench rejected the Union’s argument that these questions were already settled by the Constitution Bench in Manoj Narula in 2014. In Manoj Narula, the court chose not to interfere with the Prime Minister’s discretion to choose Ministers, even though some Ministers may be undertrials in pending criminal cases.
On 9th August, 2018, the Constitution Bench began hearing the matter. On 25th September, the Bench delivered its verdict and declined to add further criteria for disqualification under Section 8 of the RP Act, observing that it was not for the Courts but the Legislature to bring about changes to the law. It further urged the Parliament to enact law to ensure that persons facing serious criminal charges were prevented from entering the political stream.
1. 1Whether the court can lay down additional disqualifications for beyond Article 102(e) and Section (8) of the RP Act?
2. Whether the disqualification should be triggered upon conviction as it exists presently or upon framing of charges by the court?
3. Whether filing of false affidavits under Section 125A of the RP Act should be a ground of disqualification?