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'No Immunity For MPs, MLAs In Bribe-For-Vote Cases', Says SC, PM Calls It 'Great Judgment'

The Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that Members of Parliament and Legislative Assemblies cannot claim immunity for bribery related to their official duties.

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The Supreme Court declared on Monday that Members of Parliament (MPs) and Members of Legislative Assemblies (MLAs) can be prosecuted for accepting bribes in exchange for making speeches or casting votes in the legislature.

According to the judgement, “An MP/MLA can't claim immunity from prosecution on a charge of bribery in connection with the vote or speech in the legislative house."

A seven-judge constitution bench, led by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud, unanimously overruled a 1998 verdict related to the JMM bribery case. The earlier decision had granted immunity to MPs and MLAs for accepting bribes in exchange for their participation in legislative activities.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi praised the Supreme Court's and wrote on X: "Swagatam. A great judgment by the Supreme Court which will ensure clean politics and deepen people's faith in the system.”

Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud said, "It is a unanimous decision," regarding the judgment on whether Members of Parliament (MPs) and Members of Legislative Assemblies (MLAs) can assert immunity for accepting bribes in exchange for votes or speeches in Parliament or Assemblies.

Chandrachud said, “In the course of this judgment while analysing majority and minority decision of Narsimha Rao judgment, we disagree and overrule the judgment that parliamentarian can claim immunity... The judgment of the majority in Narsimha Rao which grants immunity to legislators has a grave danger and thus overruled."

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Supreme Court further quoted, “Corruption or bribery by a member of legislature erodes probity in public life."

Additionally SC said, “Accepting bribes itself constitutes the offence."

On September 20, the court decided to re-examine a 1998 judgment in the PV Narasimha Rao Vs State (CBI) case. This decision gained attention when Sita Soren, a former Jharkhand assembly member from the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), allegedly accepted a bribe for voting in the 2012 Rajya Sabha elections.

Back in 1998, a five-judge bench, with a 3-2 majority, ruled that MPs and MLAs accepting bribes and voting in the House would have constitutional immunity. Strangely, this protected lawmakers who voted after receiving bribes but not those who took bribes and failed to fulfill their end of the bargain.

This judgment arose from the JMM bribery scandal during the PV Narasimha Rao-led Congress government in 1993. The government was accused of bribing parliamentarians across parties to defeat a no-confidence motion.

Last October, a seven-judge bench reserved its verdict on the correctness of the 1998 ruling. The Union government urged the bench to nullify the precedent, emphasising that bribery outside legislative Houses is prosecutable under the Prevention of Corruption (PC) Act.

The government proposed an alternative in-house committee called "speech and vote watch," suggesting it as a viable option to judicially mandated guidelines. It argued that the court should declare the 1998 judgment "per incuriam" as it failed to consider the PC Act, criminalising bribery outside legislative Houses.

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Senior advocates representing the government urged the court to avoid issuing inflexible norms, asserting that Parliament and state legislatures should set enforceable norms. They emphasised that the court's focus should be on whether the 1998 ruling is a precedent when a lawmaker accepts bribes, without delving into the broader issue of immunity under Articles 105(2) and 194(2) of the Constitution.

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