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What constitutes a breach of legislature’s privilege?

Topics Covered: Parliament and State Legislatures – structure, functioning, conduct of business, powers & privileges and issues arising out of these.

What constitutes a breach of legislature’s privilege?


Context:

In an affidavit, filed in pursuant to a plea by Facebook India VP and MD Ajit Mohan and Facebook in the Supreme Court against the summons, the Delhi Assembly said that Mohan has not been issued any summons for breach of privilege.

  • Delhi assembly said, he was only summoned by its Peace and Harmony committee to appear as witness in connection with north east Delhi riots.

But, can the Court intervene in such matters?

The proceedings of the assembly cannot be called in question in the court of law and the member or the Presiding Officer in whom powers are vested for regulating the procedure or conduct of business is not subject to the jurisdiction of courts in respect of exercise by him of those powers.

Basics:

Which provisions of the Constitution protect the privileges of the legislature?

The powers, privileges and immunities of either House of the Indian Parliament and of its Members and committees are laid down in Article 105 of the Constitution.

  • Similarly, Article 194 deals with the powers, privileges and immunities of the State Legislatures, their Members and their committees.

What constitutes a breach of this privilege?

There are no clear, notified rules to decide what constitutes a breach of privilege, and the punishment it attracts.

  • Generally, any act that obstructs or impedes either House of the state legislature in performing its functions, or which obstructs or impedes any Member or officer of such House in the discharge of his duty, or has a tendency, directly or indirectly, to produce such results is treated as breach of privilege.
  • It is also a breach of privilege and contempt of the House to make speeches or to print or publish libel reflecting on the character or proceedings of the House, or its Committees, or on any member of the House for or relating to his character or conduct as a legislator.

What is the procedure to be followed in cases of alleged breach of the legislature’s privilege?

  • The Legislative Assembly Speaker or Legislative Council Chairman constitutes a Privileges Committee.
  • The members to the committee are nominated based on the party strength in the Houses.
  • Speaker or Chairman first decides on the motions.
  • If the privilege and contempt are found prima facie, then the Speaker or Chairman will forward it to the Privileges Committee by following the due procedure.
  • The Committee will examine whether statements made by him had insulted the state legislature and its Members, and whether their image was maligned before the public.
  • The Committee, which has quasi-judicial powers, will seek an explanation from all the concerned, will conduct an inquiry and will make a recommendation based on the findings to the state legislature for its consideration.

InstaLinks:

Prelims Link:

  1. Which provisions of the Constitution protect the privileges of the legislature?
  2. What is the procedure to be followed in cases of alleged breach of the legislature’s privilege?
  3. Composition and functions of Privileges Committees in Parliament and State Legislatures.
  4. What is the punishment for an individual who is found guilty of breaching the legislature’s privilege?
  5. Can the Courts intervene in matters involving breach of privileges of state legislatures?

Mains Link:

What do you understand by legislative privileges? Discuss the problem of legislative privileges as seen in India time to time.

Sources: the Hindu.