Can lawmakers facing criminal trial be disqualified? SC verdict today
New Delhi, Sep 24: The Supreme Court is likely to pronounce its verdict Tuesday on a batch of pleas raising a question whether lawmakers facing criminal trial can be disqualified from contesting elections at the stage of framing of charges against them.
Presently, lawmakers are barred under the Representation of Peoples (RP) Act from contesting elections only after their conviction in a criminal case. A five-judge Constitution bench, headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, had reserved its verdict on August 28 and is slated to pronounce the verdict tomorrow.
The bench, also comprising Justices R F Nariman, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra, had earlier indicated that voters have a right to know the antecedents of candidates and the Election Commission could be asked to direct political parties to ensure that persons, facing criminal charges, do not contest on their tickets using their poll symbols.
The Centre has contended that the judiciary should not venture into the legislative arena by creating a pre-condition which would adversely affect the right of the candidates to participate in polls as there was already the RP Act which deals with the issue of disqualification. The apex court had observed earlier that persons facing criminal charges would be free to contest, but they cannot do so on a party ticket under its election symbol.
Referring to the concept of presumption of innocence until a person is proven guilty, the Centre had argued that depriving a person from contesting elections on a party ticket would amount to denial of the right to vote, which also included the right to contest. It had said that the courts will have to presume innocence in view of the fact that in 70 per cent cases, accused are being acquitted.
Attorney General K K Venugopal, appearing for Centre had said that Parliament has made a distinction between an accused and a convict and there has been a provision for disqualification in the Representation of Peoples Act upon conviction of a lawmaker. The Election Commission of India had taken a view which was apparently opposite to the Centre and said the recommendations for decriminalising politics were made by the poll panel and the Law Commission way back in 1997 and 1998, but no action was taken on them. It exhorted the court to issue the direction in the matter besides asking Parliament to make the suitable law. The bench was hearing the PILs filed by NGO 'Public Interest Foundation' and BJP leader Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay.