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Editorial of the Day (5th Mar), When Lawmakers Take Bribe

The recent ruling by a seven-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court of India, headed by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud, has significant implications for the legal immunity of lawmakers facing bribery charges. This landmark decision clarifies that legislators cannot claim immunity from criminal prosecution for accepting bribes in connection with their speech and votes in the House, challenging the long-standing interpretation of parliamentary privileges under Articles 105(2) and 194(2) of the Indian Constitution.

Relevance for Prelims

Polity: Indian Polity and Governance-Constitution

Relevance for Mains

GS-2: Functions and Responsibilities of the Union and the States, Issues and Challenges Pertaining to the Federal Structure, Devolution of Powers and Finances up to Local Levels and Challenges.

Historical Context and the 1998 JMM Bribery Ruling

The Supreme Court’s decision to revisit the interpretation of these constitutional protections stems from a precedent set in the 1998 case involving the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) bribery scandal. In that landmark judgment, the Court ruled that parliamentary immunity under Article 105(2) extended to actions related to bribery for votes within the legislature, thus shielding lawmakers from prosecution for such acts.

Shift in Judicial Perspective

The recent ruling by a seven-judge bench, however, challenges this interpretation, marking a pivotal shift in the judicial understanding of legislative immunity. By overruling the 1998 decision, the Court has signaled a reevaluation of the balance between protecting legislative freedoms and preventing corruption within the halls of government. The judgment acknowledges the necessity of preserving free speech and debate within Parliament and state Assemblies. Still, it clarifies that such protections do not extend to criminal activities, such as accepting bribes in exchange for votes or favorable speech​.

Legal Framework and Its Implications

Article 105(2) of the Indian Constitution safeguards members of Parliament by ensuring immunity from any legal proceedings regarding anything said or any vote given in Parliament or its committees. Similarly, Article 194(2) extends these protections to members of state Assemblies. The intent behind these provisions is to ensure that lawmakers can perform their duties without fear of legal repercussions, thereby promoting free and open debate within the legislative process.

Broader Impact on Democracy and Governance

This redefinition of parliamentary immunity has profound implications for the accountability and integrity of lawmakers. It underscores the principle that legal protections for legislative actions are not carte blanche for engaging in corrupt practices. By delineating the bounds of immunity, the Supreme Court aims to fortify the democratic process, ensuring that the legislative domain remains a sphere of ethical deliberation and decision-making.

Distinct Purposes of Punishment

The Court’s distinction between the purposes of punishment by the House and criminal prosecution is pivotal. While Parliament may suspend or even jail a member for contempt to uphold its dignity and ensure its orderly functioning, these actions serve a different objective than criminal proceedings. The former is more about maintaining the internal discipline and integrity of the legislative body, whereas the latter seeks to address the violation of national laws and protect the public interest.

Balancing Legislative Privilege and Legal Accountability

This dual jurisdiction underscores a delicate balance between respecting legislative privileges and ensuring elected representatives are not above the law. Legislative bodies possess certain immunities to safeguard the independence and efficacy of parliamentary debate and decision-making. However, allowing these privileges to extend to criminal behavior, such as bribery, would undermine the rule of law and public trust in democratic institutions.

Rule of Law vs Parliamentary Immunity

Justice Agarwal’s dissent underscores a fundamental principle: the rule of law should apply uniformly, without placing legislators above it. This perspective challenges the broader interpretation of parliamentary immunity that could inadvertently sanction corrupt practices by elected representatives. By arguing that immunity from prosecution for bribery charges contradicts the intent of Article 105(2), Justice Agarwal emphasizes the need to safeguard the integrity of legislative processes without compromising accountability.

Anomaly in Interpretation

Justice Agarwal’s criticism of the majority’s interpretation reveals a potential anomaly where legislators could exploit the “in respect of” phrase to shield themselves from bribery charges, contingent on their compliance with the bribe’s terms. This interpretation, as Justice Agarwal points out, creates a paradox where the fulfillment of corrupt agreements could theoretically offer immunity from prosecution, an outcome that contradicts the essence of legal and ethical governance.

Redefining Legislative Immunity’s Boundaries

The reinterpretation of “in respect of” to mean “arising out of” suggests a refined understanding of legislative immunity. This nuanced perspective aims to safeguard the essential freedoms of speech and decision-making within legislative bodies, while also ensuring that lawmakers are held responsible for any corrupt actions preceding their formal duties, such as casting votes or delivering speeches. Justice Agarwal’s stance draws a distinct line between performing legislative functions and engaging in unlawful behavior, promoting a legislative setting that values integrity and combats corruption.

Viewing Bribery as a Standalone Offence

Justice Agarwal’s dissent firmly holds that accepting a bribe is in itself a complete offense, regardless of the execution of the bribe’s intended purpose through legislative actions like votes or speeches. This viewpoint contests the idea that carrying out a bribe’s objective could somehow impact the protection offered by immunity, emphasizing that illicit acts, particularly bribery, should not find shelter under legislative privileges.

Evaluating Concerns of Judicial Overreach

While some may voice concerns over potential judicial overreach that could infringe upon legislative autonomy, the Court’s reasoning aims to alleviate such worries by distinguishing between the roles of disciplinary measures within the House and the judiciary’s criminal prosecutions. This approach ensures that lawmakers are free to fulfill their roles without improper interference but remain subject to the law for their actions, maintaining a balance between legislative independence and accountability.


Justice Agarwal’s dissent in the context of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the 1998 ruling offers a profound critique of legislative immunity in cases of bribery. It highlights the complexities of balancing parliamentary privileges with the need for accountability and integrity in governance. By advocating for a reinterpretation of the scope of immunity, Justice Agarwal’s perspective contributes to a broader discourse on ensuring that democratic institutions remain resilient against corruption while upholding the principles of the rule of law. This critical examination underscores the ongoing tension between legislative freedoms and the imperatives of ethical governance, marking a significant moment in the evolution of constitutional law in India.

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What is the recent Supreme Court ruling about legislative immunity in India?

The recent ruling by a seven-judge Constitution Bench, led by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud, clarified that lawmakers facing bribery charges cannot claim immunity from criminal prosecution for actions related to their speech and votes in the House. This challenges the long-standing interpretation of parliamentary privileges under Articles 105(2) and 194(2) of the Indian Constitution.

Why did the Supreme Court revisit the interpretation of legislative immunity?

The decision to revisit the interpretation stems from the 1998 Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) bribery scandal case, where the Court ruled that parliamentary immunity extended to actions related to bribery for votes within the legislature. The recent ruling marks a pivotal shift in judicial understanding.

What is the historical context of the 1998 JMM bribery ruling?

In 1998, the Supreme Court ruled that parliamentary immunity under Article 105(2) extended to actions related to bribery for votes within the legislature, shielding lawmakers from prosecution for such acts.

What is the legal framework underpinning legislative immunity in India?

Articles 105(2) and 194(2) of the Indian Constitution provide immunity to members of Parliament and state Assemblies, ensuring protection from legal proceedings regarding anything said or any vote given in the legislature or its committees.

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Hey there! I'm Nikesh, a content writer at Adda247. I specialize in creating informative content focused on UPSC and State PSC exams. Join me as we unravel the complexities of these exams and turn aspirations into achievements together!

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