Criminalisation of Politics
A special court for trial against legislators
● Recently, a three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court said the setting up of special courts to expeditiously try sitting and former MPs and MLAs accused of various crimes is in the public interest and faith in the judiciary in mind.
● According to the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR), nearly half of the newly-elected Lok Sabha members (2019) have criminal charges against them, a 26% increase as compared to 2014.
Judicial interventions for the decriminalization of Politics are laudable. However, the changes required to bring about free and fair elections will only come about through sustained legislative and political action. Critically Analyse.
Need for special court for the trial of legislators:
● The criminalisation of politics remains a major concern in India as several politicians facing charges of corruption, murder, rape and abduction continue to be lawmakers.
● A speedy trial will increase the public faith in the judiciary by making sure that long-pending cases against sitting and former MPs and MLAs are decided without delay.
● The Vohra Committee explained in detail the extent of criminalisation. However, recommendations have not been followed upon.
● Speeding up the trial was in the interest of justice for all stakeholders since it would guarantee timely disqualification of a lawmaker as well as secure the fundamental right of speedy justice to the accused.
Legal framework for the decriminalisation of politics:
● The Representation of Peoples Act(RPA), 1951 prescribes the statutory framework to prevent the entry of criminals into politics by prescribing certain disqualifications.
● Section 8 of the RP Act lists certain offences. A conviction for these offences disqualifies a person from being elected or continuing as a member of the legislature.
● At present, a lawmaker guilty of a criminal offence punishable by two years or more in jail immediately loses the membership of Parliament or state assemblies. The Supreme court’s 2013 judgment bars a convicted politician from contesting elections for six years from the date the sentence ends.
Supreme Court on Decriminalization of Politics:
● In Lily Thomas vs. Union of India, 2013, the Supreme Court stated that if a sitting MP/MLA is convicted (not only charged) then he/ she would be disqualified immediately and the seat would be declared vacant.
● It set aside Clause 8(4) of the Representation of the People Act which had provided a special privilege to MPs/MLAs to hold the office even after conviction if an appeal had been filed in a higher court within 3 months.
● In 2014, the Supreme Court recently ordered setting a deadline for the lower courts to complete trials in cases involving lawmakers within a year of framing of charges.
● View of the Election Commission:
➢ The EC proposal to bar candidates accused of an offence punishable with at least five years of imprisonment from contesting elections, after charges are framed against them by a court, has been opposed by many parties.
○ The opposition is based on two grounds: ruling politicians will misuse this against the Opposition; and the law of the land assumes everyone to be innocent till proven guilty or convicted.
The issue with setting up of fast-track courts:
● Neither the Constitution nor the Representation of Peoples Act provides for time-bound trials or setting up of fast-track courts, for the trial of disqualifiable offences.
● Supreme court directions mandating time-bound trials can be seen as judicial overreach. It violates the doctrine of separation of power.
● The efficacy of fast-track courts: Statistics reveal that the rate of disposal by fast track courts is only marginallyhigher when compared to their ‘regular’ counterparts. Practitioners have criticized such courts for ‘bypassing procedure’, ‘compromising on the quality of evidence’ and in the end result, ‘not doing justice to anybody.’
● These courts have often been mooted as a solution to the extensive delays that plague the functioning of “normal” courts in India. Despite the persistent demand to set up fast track courts, and the periodic initiatives in this regard, there has been a little empirical study on their efficacy.
Maintaining the purity of the electoral process requires a multi-pronged approach. The Supreme Court’s concern and initiatives in this regard are laudable. However, the changes required to bring about free and fair elections will only come about through sustained legislative and political action. Judicial interventions should be complemented with political will, expressed through the parliamentary process.