The Supreme Court vacates a Defamation Case Conviction

  • The Supreme Court’s recent judgement to postpone a criminal defamation conviction has important ramifications for a prominent political leader’s parliamentary representation.
  • The court emphasised the lack of valid reasons for imposing the maximum sentence and the importance of mutual respect and caution in public comments.

Disqualification of legislators

  • This is a key part in preserving the legislative bodies’ integrity.
  • Disqualification is possible in India under constitutional requirements and the Representation of the People Act (RPA), 1951.
  • The Tenth Schedule also addresses defection-related disqualifications.

Disqualification Reasons

  • Members of Parliament and Legislative Assemblies are disqualified under Articles 102(1) and 191(1) of the Constitution. Holding a profit-making office, being of unsound mind, insolvent, or lacking lawful citizenship are all grounds.
  • Defection: The Constitution’s Tenth Schedule provides for disqualification based on defection.
  • RPA, 1951: This Act requires disqualification for criminal convictions.

Disqualification under the 1951 RPA

  • Section 8 of the RPA addresses disqualification for conviction of offences.
  • The provision’s goal is to prevent the criminalization of politics and to prohibit ‘tainted’ MPs from running for office.
  • Section 8(3) states that a person guilty of an offence and sentenced to at least two years in prison is disqualified from the date of conviction and for an additional six years following release.

Disqualification Appeal and Stay of Disqualification

  • Disqualification can be reversed if a higher court provides a stay of execution or rules in favour of the convicted legislator’s appeal.
  • Lok Prahari v Union of India: The Supreme Court emphasised in a 2018 judgement that the disqualification will not take effect if the appellate court delays the conviction.
  • If a convicted politician files an appeal, it will first be heard by the Surat Sessions Court and then by the Gujarat High Court.

Legislative Changes

  • RPA Section 8(4): Section 8(4) previously stated that disqualification takes effect three months from the date of conviction.
  • Union of India v. Lily Thomas: In a historic 2013 decision, the Supreme Court declared Section 8(4) of the RPA invalid.
  • The ruling was intended to prohibit guilty politicians from continuing to occupy public office while their appeals were pending, so helping to the purification of Indian politics.

Recent observations by the Supreme Court

  • Reasoning Deficit: The court stated that the trial judge failed to show any justification for imposing the maximum penalty, despite the fact that the penal code allowed for a variety of sentencing choices.
  • The Supreme Court stated that the High Court neglected an important component of the lack of justification behind the punitive punishment in its judgement.
  • Impact on Representation: The court stated that exclusion from Parliament impacts not only the individual, but also the electorate represented by the individual in issue, raising worries about unrepresented areas.
  • Caution by Public Figures: While accepting his apologies for his previous “thief” remarks during the general election, the Court reminded him of the importance of exercising caution in public speeches due to his position in public life.
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