Legislative Immunity For Lawmakers Facing Bribery Charges



Parliamentary privilege, enshrined in the Constitution of India, plays a vital role in fostering deliberative democracy within a parliamentary system. It ensures that legislators can freely express their opinions and vote within parliament without concern for external pressures. This protection allows representatives from all over the country, with varied cultural and economic backgrounds to participate in the democratic process actively without fear of legal repercussions. However, the question arises whether parliamentary privilege extends to shielding legislators who accept bribes for voting or discussing specific topics, a matter requiring constitutional interpretation by the Court.

In 2012, Sita Soren, a legislator in the Jharkhand Legislative Assembly affiliated with the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), faced allegations of bribery. It was claimed that she had been approached by an independent candidate to vote in his favor during the Rajya Sabha Elections. However, she voted for a candidate from her own party in the Rajya Sabha election, the elections were annulled and in subsequent reelection, she again supported her party’s candidate.

Sita Soren moved the High Court of Jharkhand to quash the chargesheet and the criminal proceedings instituted against her. She claimed protection under Article 194(2) of the Constitution, relying on SC decision in PV Narasimha Rao v. State (1998) (PVN Case). The HC declined her appeal on the ground that she had not cast her vote in favour of the alleged bribe giver and thus, is not entitled to the protection under Article 194(2). The HC’s reasoning primarily turned on the PVN Case. The controversy in PVN Case and the present case turns on the interpretation of the provisions of Article 105(2) and 194(2).

While Article 105(2) of the Constitution stipulates that no member of Parliament shall be held liable for anything said or for any vote cast in the Parliament, Article 194(2) extends this privilege to members of state legislatures.

Notably in the PVN Case, a group of lawmakers who voted against the no-confidence motion were accused of accepting bribe against their vote. The SC held that that an MP “shall not be answerable in a court of law for something that has a nexus to his speech or vote in Parliament” under Article 105(2) as the provision protected “what has been said or voted”. However, one MP, Ajit Singh, abstained from voting and was subject to prosecution as he did not vote.

In the PVN Case, the majority (3:2) broadly interpreted the phrase “in respect of” in Article 105 (2). They concluded that any action leading to a legislative function would be shielded by immunity, while actions not resulting in legislative functions would not enjoy such protection.

Contrary to the majority’s view, the minority interpreted “in respect of” as equivalent to “arising out of”. They argued that bribery becomes an offense the moment the bribe is received and cannot be shielded by immunity under Article 105(3). Therefore, lawmakers receiving bribes should not be immune from prosecution.

In the present case, the Court adopted the minority’s interpretation, defining “in respect of” as “arising out of or bearing a clear relation to.” Merely having a remote connection with a speech or vote is insufficient for a lawmaker to claim immunity; the act in question must be related to the function of the House. Hence, lawmakers cannot claim immunity from prosecution for engaging in bribery. The Bench emphasized that bribery constitutes a crime unrelated to a lawmaker’s ability to vote or make decisions.

Relying on the Prevention of Corruption Act, the Court held in the present case that mere obtaining, accepting or attempting to obtain an undue advantage to act or not act in a certain way is sufficient to constitute a bribe irrelevant of the performance of the act for which the bribe is given. It is interesting to note that the minority judgement in PVN Case did elucidate on this aspect. The Court opined that its decision through the majority judgement in the PVN Case belies the text of the Articles 105(2) and 194(2) and the purpose of conferring the parliamentary privilege.

The Court held that to allow an erred precedent to perpetuate, which grants immunity from prosecution to a member of the legislature who has allegedly engaged in bribery for casting a vote or speaking has wide ramifications on public interest and probity in public life. It poses a grave danger and needs to be reconsidered.

In a landmark verdict on March 4, 2024, a seven judge bench of the Supreme Court, overruling the majority judgement in the PVN Case, held that the members of Parliament (MPs) and Members of Legislative Assemblies (MLAs) are not protected with immunity under Articles 105(2) and 194(2) of the Constitution in cases of bribery.


Authors: Lokesh Kansal & Malabika Boruah


Interns and Paralegals.


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