Deciding to revisit its 21-year-old verdict made in the sensational sensational Jharkhand Mukti Morch (JMM) bribery case, the Supreme Court will now determine whether a Parliamentarian or MLA can claim immunity from criminal prosecution for taking bribe to give a speech or vote in an assembly or the Parliament.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi has referred to a larger bench the appeal of Sita Soren, incidentally also a JMM MLA, against Jharkhand High Court order which held that she could not claim immunity for allegedly taking bribe to vote for a particular candidate in Rajya Sabha elections held in 2012.
Sita Soren is also the daughter in-law of former union minister Shibu Soren who was involved in the JMM bribery case.
Shibu, along with his four party MPs, had allegedly taken bribe to vote against the no-confidence motion against the then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao government in Centre in July 1993.
"Having considered the matter, we are of the view that having regard to the wide ramification of the question that has arisen, the doubts raised and the issue being a matter of substantial public importance we should be requesting for a reference of the matter to a larger bench, as may be considered appropriate, to hear and decide the issue arising," it said in an order, uploaded Friday.
The bench, also comprising Justices S Abdul Nazeer and Sanjiv Khana, directed the registry to place the records of the case before the Chief Justice on the administrative side for appropriate orders.
The top court Thursday considered its 1998 five-judge constitution bench verdict given in the PV Narasimha Rao versus CBI case.
It earlier verdict held that parliamentarians had immunity under the Constitution against criminal prosecution for their speech or vote given in the house.
The bench said that the majority view of the 1998 verdict despite "acutely conscious of the seriousness of the offence" felt that the wrongful act and the 'sense of indignation' of the court should not lead to a narrow construction of the constitutional provisions which may have the effect of impairing the guarantee to effective Parliamentary participation and debate.
Referring to the minority view of the 21-year-old verdict, the bench said Thursday that it took the view that the protection under Article 105(2)/194(2) of the Constitution and the immunity granted cannot extend to cases where bribery for making a speech or vote in a particular manner in the House is alleged.
Sita Soren has sought quashing of the criminal case lodged against her for allegedly taking bribe to vote in favour of a particular candidate in the Rajya Sabha election of 2012.
Advocate Vivek Kumar Singh, appearing for Sita Soren sought quashing of the case against her saying that she had immunity under Article 194(2) of the Constitution for her voting in assembly.
He said that under Article 194(2) an MLA cannot be liable to any proceedings in any court in respect of anything said or any vote given by him or her in the legislature.
Since the 1998 verdict was delivered by a five-judge bench, the question of law is likely to be sent to a seven-judge Constitution bench.
The Jharkhand High Court had on February 17, 2014 dismissed the plea of Sita Soren seeking to quash the criminal proceedings initiated against her.
She was charged by CBI for allegedly taking bribe from one candidate and voting for other.
(With PTI inputs)