On 4 March 2024, a seven-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court unanimously held that members of Parliament (MPs) and Members of Legislative Assemblies (MLAs) are not protected with immunity under Article 105(2) and Article 194(2) of the Constitution in cases of bribery. Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud wrote the 135-page judgment on behalf of the Bench.

The Bench overruled the five-judge Bench decision in P. V. Narasimha Rao v State (1998) which held that immunity granted to lawmakers under Article 105(2) applied to everything said or any vote cast in the House. 

The judgement laid down a two-fold test for when lawmakers may enjoy immunity under Articles 105(2) and 194(2). In the judgement, the Court also clarified that the elections to the Rajya Sabha, President and Vice-President fall within the remit of Article 194.


Article 194(2) states that ‘No member of the Legislature of a State shall be liable to any proceedings in any court in respect of anything said or any vote given by him in the Legislature or any committee thereof, and no person shall be so liable in respect of the publication by or under the authority of a House of such a Legislature of any report, paper, votes or proceedings.’

Sita Soren, a member of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), was accused of accepting a bribe to vote for a particular candidate in the Rajya Sabha Elections of 2012. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) subsequently filed an official chargesheet against Sita Soren for allegedly accepting a bribe for a vote and a case was filed in the High Court of Jharkhand. In 2014, The Jharkhand High Court dismissed the plea filed by Sita Soren seeking to quash the criminal proceedings that had been initiated against her, claiming that she enjoyed immunity under Article 194(2) of the Constitution. The case has subsequently been appealed before the Supreme Court.

A 3 judge Bench of the Supreme Court heard the case on 7 March 2019 and took note of the decision of the Constitution Bench in P. V. Narsimha Rao v State(1998), where the Court (in a 3:2 majority) had held that parliamentarians enjoy immunity under the Constitution against criminal prosecution with regards to their speech and votes in the House. The Bench comprising CJI Ranjan Gogoi,  S Abdul Nazeer, and Sanjiv Khanna J accordingly referred the matter to a larger Bench.

On 20 September 2023, a  five-judge Constitution Bench referred the Supreme Court’s judgement in P.V. Narasimha Rao v State (1998) to a seven-judge bench. The seven-judge bench was tasked with deciding the extent of immunity for lawmakers under Articles 105(2) and 194(2) of the Constitution in cases of bribery. The Court heard the case for two days on 4 and 5 October 2023 and reserved judgement.

A larger bench can reconsider a decision by a smaller bench

The seven-judge bench was hearing a case concerning Sita Soren, a member of Jharkhand’s legislative assembly, from the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, who was accused of taking bribes to vote for an independent candidate in the 2012 Rajya Sabha Elections. However, after receiving the bribe, she voted for a member of her own party. 

During the arguments, Senior Advocate Raju Ramachandran, representing Soren, argued that the Court could not reconsider a position of law which has “stood undisturbed since 1998.” He relied on the principle of stare decisis—which binds the Court to its precedents for the same. 

The judgement rejected this argument and held that a bench with a higher quorum could reconsider a decision of a bench with a lower quorum. “We do not consider it appropriate for this Court to confine itself to such a rigid understanding of the doctrine of stare decisis. The ability of this Court to reconsider its decisions is necessary for the organic development of law and the advancement of justice,” CJI Chandrachud wrote. 

Parliamentary privilege is granted to facilitate free deliberation

The judgement held that the purpose of immunity is to “create institutions where deliberations, views and counterviews could be expressed freely to facilitate a democratic and peaceful social transformation.” Therefore, it was important to protect those involved in such deliberation and enable them to speak freely on the affairs of Parliament. 

Since immunity under Article 105(2), is extended to “anything said or any vote given,” the “vote given by a member of Parliament is an extension of speech.” Therefore, the freedom of a member of Parliament to cast a vote is also protected by the freedom of speech in Parliament.” 

However, the Court held that immunity provided through the law is subject to limitations. The freedom of speech in Parliament the Court stated, “would be subject to the provisions that regulate its procedure.” In other words, though immunity is given, it cannot be enjoyed without restrictions. 

In this instance, the Court noted that the law provides immunities only in instances to carry out essential functions of the House. Anything beyond this is not protected with immunity. They held that “the privilege of an individual member only extends insofar as it aids the House to function and without which the House may not be able to carry out its functions collectively.” 

The Court held that “the privileges of the members of the House individually bear a functional relationship to the ability of the House to fulfill its functioning and vindicate its authority and dignity collectively.”

Two-fold test for claiming immunity

The judgment also laid down a two-fold test to determine when immunity under Articles 105(2) and 194(2) of the Constitution can be extended to a lawmaker. Firstly, the act for which immunity is claimed must be related to the collective functions of the House. Secondly, the immunity sought should have a “functional relationship” to the discharge of the duty of an individual legislator. 

Seeking immunity for the act of bribery to vote or act in Parliament or Assembly, the Court said failed this two-fold-test and therefore, could not be granted. 

Immunity must be tethered to legislative functions

Article 105(2) states “No member of Parliament shall be liable to any proceedings in any court in respect of anything said or any vote given by him in Parliament or any committee thereof.” In P.V. Narasimha, the majority interpreted the words “in respect of” in the Article, broadly. They held that any action done, of which the outcome is a legislative function, will be covered by immunity. However, if the result is not a legislative function, lawmakers will not be protected by immunity. 

The minority in P.V. Narasimha held that the interpretation of “in respect of” is to mean “arising out of” under Article 105(2) of the Constitution. The minority opined that bribery is an offence the minute the bribe is received and cannot be given immunity under Article 105(3). Thus, a lawmaker receiving a bribe could not be protected with immunity 

In the present case, the Court sided with the minority view and held that the phrase “in respect of” means “arising out of or bearing a clear relation to.” For a lawmaker to claim immunity, it is not enough that the act in question has a remote connection with the speech or vote given, it needs to be related to the function of the House. 

Therefore, a lawmaker is not immune from prosecution when they indulge in bribery. The Bench stated that “engaging in bribery commits a crime which is unrelated to their ability to vote or to make a decision on their vote.”

The offence of bribery ends when illegal gratification is received

In P.V. Narasimha, the majority had extended immunity to MPs who had received a bribe and cast a vote per the bribery agreement. Those who did not cast the vote did not get immunity. 

In the present case, the bench clarified that the view in P.V. Narasimha presented a “paradoxical outcome” as it created an “artificial distinction” between those who receive the bribe and perform their end of the bargain and those who receive the same bribe but do not carry out the agreed task. 

The Court held that according to the Prevention of Corruption Act, the mere “obtaining,” “accepting” or “attempting” to obtain an undue advantage to act or not act in a certain way is sufficient to complete the offence. The act for which the bribe is given does not need to be performed.

Court and Parliament’s jurisdiction

The Petitioners had argued that the Court does not have jurisdiction to decide on matters relating to the Parliament. The Court rejected this argument and held that its jurisdiction to try criminal charges against members of the Parliament is distinct from the jurisdiction exercised by the Parliament in dealing with offences committed by its members.