The Supreme Court will on Thursday commence hearing on the pleas raising the question as to at what stage of a criminal trial a lawmaker would stand disqualified. A three-judge bench, on March 8, 2016, had referred the matter to a five-judge Constitution bench. The bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and justices R F Nariman, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra would commence the hearing on the issue, which has far-reaching political consequences.
While referring the issue to the CJI, the court had said the larger bench would deal with the question, “Can a legislator facing criminal trial be disqualified at conviction or at the framing of charges in the case?” The court was hearing a petition filed by NGO Public Interest Foundation.
BJP leader and advocate Ashwani Kumar Updhaya has also filed a plea seeking a direction to the Centre and others “to bring in electoral reform and to make rules… and Code of Conduct for de-criminalisation and de-communalisation of politics and for the eradication of corruption, casteism and nepotism from electoral system.”
Earlier, the apex court had set a deadline of one year for lower courts to complete trial in criminal cases involving sitting MPs and MLAs. It had also said that all such proceedings involving lawmakers must be conducted on a day-to-day basis. In order to expedite proceedings against lawmakers who continue to enjoy membership of a legislative body during the pendency of case, the court had also said that lower courts will have to give explanation to the Chief Justice of the respective high courts if the trial is not completed within a year.
The Law Commission had recommended that such trials be concluded in one year. “We direct in cases of sitting MPs and MLAs who have been charged for offences under Sections 8(1), 8(2), 8(3)of Representation of People Act, the trial is to be conducted as expeditiously as possible but not later than one year from the date of framing of charges,” it had said.
The apex court had said that the period of one year can be extended by the chief justice of the high court if he is satisfied with the reason given by the trial judge for not completing the proceedings within the deadline. As the trial is kept pending for years, lawmakers continue to enjoy membership of the legislative body despite being charged in a heinous offence, the court had noted.
The court had passed the order on a PIL filed by the Public Interest Foundation, seeking its direction for expeditious trial in cases involving lawmakers. The NGO contended that MPs and MLAs continue to be Members of Parliament and Assembly for a long time due to delay in proceedings.
The court had taken note of the Law Commission’s report which said that a candidate should be disqualified on framing of charges in cases punishable with a jail term of five years or more as the current criteria of disqualification upon conviction is “incapable” of barring criminals from electoral politics.