Parliamentary Privileges & Contempt of House

Parliamentary  Privileges & Contempt of House

This issue remains in news like

  1. 2019 : Breach of privilege motion was moved against Prime Minister and Defence Minister claiming they had misled Parliament on the Rafale fighter jet deal issue
  2. 2017 :  Karnataka assembly Speaker ordered the imprisonment of two journalists for a year based on recommendations of its privilege committees.
  3. 2003 : TN  Speaker directed arrest of 5 journalists for publishing articles that were critical of AIADMK government

Meaning of Parliamentary Privilege

  • ‘Privilege’ means a special or exceptional right  or  immunity enjoyed by a particular class of persons 
  • Idea behind parliamentary privileges is that members who represent the people 
    • Should not be obstructed in any way in the discharge of their parliamentary duties
    • They are able to express their views freely and fearlessly inside the Houses of Parliament   
    • Ensure sovereignty of Parliament .

Collective Privileges

  • Right to publish its Reports & Proceedings & also right to prohibit others from publishing same(44 Amendment – Press can publish true report without permission)
  • Can hold secret sitting 
  • Can make rules to regulate its own procedures
  • Right to receive immediate information about arrest, detention etc of its member
  • Courts are prohibited to inquire into proceedings of House 
  • It can punish members as well as outsiders for breach of privileges

Individual Privileges

  • Cannot be arrested during the session and 40 days before the beginning and 40 days after the end of the session . 
  • Freedom of Speech in the Parliament . No member is liable  for anything said  in Parliament 
  • Exempted from jury service . Can refuse to give evidence and appear as a witness when Parliament is in session .

Breach of Privileges vs Contempt of the house

  • Any act or omission which
    • obstructed a House of the Parliament / its Member / its Officer in the performance of their functions or
    • which has tendency to produce result against the dignity , authority and honour of the House
  • is treated as Contempt of the House
  • Breach of Privilege and Contempt of the House are used interchangeably but may have different implications
    • Contempt of the House has wider implications – It may be a Contempt of the House without specifically committing a Breach of Privilege
    • Example : Disobedience to a legitimate order of House is not a breach of the Privilege but can be a Contempt of the House

Important Cases

  • Keshav Singh Case , 1965 : Related to committal to prison of Keshav Singh by the UP Vidhan Sabha for committing a breach of privilege and contempt of the House .  It was held that Judiciary cant interfere in this.
  • Searchlight case, 1959 : Supreme Court held that the provisions of Article 194 indicate that Freedom of Speech referred in it is different from the Freedom of Speech and Expression under Article 19(1)(a) and cannot be cut down in any way by law contemplated by clause(2) of Article 19.

Need of Codified Act regarding Privileges

There is need for a law for codifying the privileges, define the limits of penal action for breach of privilege and procedures to be followed.

  • Article 105 (Article 194 for LA) : Privileges and immunities of each House of Parliament shall be such as may be defined by Parliament by law, and, until so defined shall be those which are enjoyed by House of Commons of Britain .
  • Hence, until now since separate Law is not there, Parliament enjoys same privileges as that of House of Commons .
  • Note : expression ‘until so defined’ does not mean an absolute power to not define privileges at all.

Issue :

  1. Indian Parliament is not Supreme while British Parliament is. Hence, giving same power to Parliament as that of House of Commons is wrong because
    • Fundamental Rights of Citizens can be curtailed
    • other limitations on Parliament cant be applied
  2. Historical reasons : Parliamentary privileges were wrested by Parliament from  King in England. In India, Privileges were granted by People so that their representatives can work without any fear

National Commission to Review the Working of Constitution (NCRWC) , 2nd Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC)& All India Whips  has also recommended that the privileges of legislatures should be defined by law.

Australia passed Parliamentary Privileges Act in 1987, clearly defining privileges, the conditions of their breach and consequent penalties. 

Leave a Comment