The Centre has braced up for another round of legal battles even as it considers the alternative of bringing constitutional and legal amendments to overcome the Supreme Court order on disqualifying sitting MPs and MLAs once they are jailed or convicted.
On Monday, the government filed a review petition against SC’s July 10 verdicts, which not only barred convicted legislators but also a person who is in “lawful custody”, including undertrials and those in police or judicial custody, from contesting elections to the Lok Sabha or Assemblies.
The court had struck down Section 8 (4) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, which protected convicted MPs and MLAs from disqualification if they appeal before a higher court within three months, on the ground of pendency of appeal.
Claiming that the judgments suffered with “errors apparent on the face of the record” as well as on “jurisdictional issues”, the Centre said the court ought to reconsider their judgments after hearing their contentions on merit in an open court proceeding. Review petitions are usually decided in judges’ chambers.
Invoking the 2005 Constitution Bench verdict in the case of K Prabhakaran Vs P Jayarajan, the Cente complained that the two-judge Bench did not appreciate the ratio of the previous judgment, which upheld the validity of Section 8 (4) and clarified that MPs and MLAs stood on a different footing in the interest of existence and continuity of the House.
On this issue, the Bench said the question of whether it was within the powers of Parliament to bring in a separate provision for sitting MPs and MLAs was not dealt with by the Constitution Bench in Prabhakaran’s case. However, the government now says that once its officers cited Prabhakaran’s verdict, the two-judge Bench should have referred the matter to a larger Bench.
The review petition has also countered the SC’s views that Parliament had exceeded its powers in providing this immunity. Reiterating arguments made during the proceedings, it said Parliament was authorised under the Constitution to make a law on disqualification and also decide how and when the effect of the disqualification would take place.