In a landmark judgment the Supreme Court on Wednesday struck as ultra vires a provision of the Representation of People Act which protects convicted lawmakers against disqualification on the ground of pendency of appeal against their conviction in the higher courts. The court held section 8 (4) of the Representation of the People Act (RPA), which gave automatic immunity to a sitting member after conviction if he filed an appeal within three months from his disqualification till disposal of his appeal, as ultra vires of the Constitution.
The SC has clarified that the order will not come into force with retrospective effect. “However, if any sitting member of Parliament or a State Legislature is convicted of any of the offences … and by virtue of such conviction and/or sentence suffers the disqualifications mentioned in sub-sections (1), (2) and (3) of Section 8 of the Act after the pronouncement of this judgment, his membership … will not be saved by sub-section (4) of Section 8 of the Act which we have by this judgment declared as ultra vires of the Constitution notwithstanding that he files the appeal for revision against the conviction and/or sentence,” its order said.
The verdict is a major move towards decriminalisation of Union and State legislatures. As the apex court observed, it does not shut the doors for convicted legislators from seeking a stay on their conviction/sentence. But as it observed, the window for such a safeguard is narrow: “An order granting stay of the conviction is not the rule and is to be resorted to in rare cases depending on the facts of the case. Whenever the execution is stayed, the conviction continues.” In keeping with the spirit of the judgment, the government must now take steps to put criminal trials involving elected representatives on fast track. This will not only be in public interest and keep legislatures free of criminal elements but also safeguard those who are wrongly convicted.