“The offence of bribery is complete at the point in time when the legislator accepts the bribe,” SC on MPs/MLAs claim on immunity from prosecution for taking bribes

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Today, the Supreme Court (SC) of India held that the Members of Parliament (MPs) and Members of Legislative Assemblies (MLAs) cannot claim immunity under Article 105(2) and Article 194(2) of the Indian Constitution for receiving a bribe in contemplation of a vote or speech in the legislature. The matter was heard by a seven-judge bench of the SC consisting of Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, Justice MM Sundresh, Justice JB Pardiwala, Justice Manoj Misra, Justice AS Bopanna, Justice PS Narasimha, and Justice PV Sanjay Kumar. In this case, the bench analyzed the reasoning of the majority and minority in the PV Narasimha Rao case and adjudicated on all aspects related to the question “whether by virtue of Articles 105 and 194 of the Constitution a Member of Parliament or the Legislative Assembly, as the case may be, can claim immunity from prosecution on a charge of bribery in a criminal court.” 

While addressing this question, the bench said “The judgment of the majority in PV Narasimha Rao, 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, probity in public life, and parliamentary democracy. There is a grave danger of this Court allowing an error to be perpetuated if the decision were not reconsidered.” Moreover, the SC clarified “The office of bribery is agnostic to the performance of the agreed action and crystallizes on the exchange of illegal gratification. It does not matter whether the vote is cast in the agreed direction or if the vote is cast at all. The offence of bribery is complete at the point in time when the legislator accepts the bribe.” 

The present appeal arises from the February 17, 2014, Jharkhand High Court judgment. On March 30, 2012, an election was held to elect two members of the Rajya Sabha representing the State of Jharkhand. The appellant, belonging to the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, was a member of the Legislative Assembly of Jharkhand. The allegation against the appellant was that she accepted a bribe from an independent candidate for casting her vote in his favor. However, as borne out from the open balloting for the Rajya Sabha seat, she did not cast her vote in favor of the alleged bribe giver and instead cast her vote in favor of a candidate belonging to her party. The round of election in question was annulled and a fresh election was held where the appellant voted in favor of the candidate from her party again. The appellant moved the High Court to quash the charge sheet and the criminal proceedings instituted against her claiming protection under Article 194(2) of the Constitution, relying on the judgment of the Constitution bench of this Court in PV Narasimha Rao v. State

The HC declined to quash the criminal proceedings on the ground that the appellant had not cast her vote in favor of the alleged bribe giver and thus, was not entitled to the protection under Article 194(2). Further, the bench of two judges of the Supreme Court, before which the appeal was placed, was of the view that since the issue arising for consideration is “substantial and of general public importance, it must be placed before a larger bench of three judges. The three-judge bench said “having regard to the wide ramification of the question that has arisen, the doubts raised and the issue being a matter of public importance”, the matter must be referred to a larger bench. Finally, a five-judge bench of the SC recorded prima facie reasons doubting the correctness of the decision in PV Narasimha Rao and referred the matter to a larger bench of seven judges

The seven-judge bench of the SC said, “The interpretation which has been placed on the issue in question in the judgment of the majority in PV Narasimha Rao results in a paradoxical outcome where a legislator is conferred with immunity when they accept a bribe and follow through by voting in the agreed direction. On the other hand, a legislator who agrees to accept a bribe, but eventually decides to vote independently will be prosecuted.” It further said that ‘such an interpretation is contrary to the text and purpose of Articles 105 and 194’.