The Supreme Court on Wednesday said destruction of public property in the House cannot be equated with freedom of expression and immunity to legislators can’t be extended as an immunity against criminal law. The top court dismissed Kerala government’s plea seeking court’s nod to withdraw cases against CPI(M) leaders, including education minister V. Sivankutty, for vandalism in the state Assembly in 2015, when the current ruling party was in opposition.
A bench comprising Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and M.R. Shah emphasized the right of free speech, privileges and immunity accorded to MLAs and MPs that they do not mean they will enjoy immunity from criminal acts within the House and the trial court was correct in rejecting the application for withdrawal of FIR.
“Acts of vandalism do not serve public function or come under freedom of speech”, noted the bench. The top court said the criminal prosecution of former LDF MLAs will continue for creating ruckus inside the Assembly in 2015.
The top court added that privileges are not a mark of status, which allows legislators to stand on a different pedestal, and privileges are also not gateway to claim exemption from law.
The Kerala government had submitted that the House has the prerogative to take action against MLAs for creating a ruckus in the Assembly in 2015. During the hearing, Justice Chandrachud had asked senior advocate Ranjit Kumar, representing the Kerala government, “Suppose an MLA whips out a revolver in the Assembly and also empties his revolver. Can you say House is supreme on this?” The bench clarified it is not possible to carry a weapon inside the Assembly, but it cited this example to carefully examine the issue before the court.
On July 5, the top court had said the unruly behaviour of law makers in Parliament and Assembly cannot be condoned and they should face trial for destroying public property inside the House.
The Kerala government has cited privileges and immunity to MLAs and urged the top court to drop cases against the Left leaders.
The Kerala High Court, in an order passed on March 12, had refused to give its nod saying that the elected representatives are expected to uphold prestige of the House or face consequences. The MLAs had vandalised Speaker’s dais, uprooted his chair, pulled out mike system, computer etc.