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SC on validity of special courts for MPs, MLAs

Context:

The Supreme Court decided to examine questions regarding the legal jurisdiction of Special Courts set up to exclusively prosecute Members of Parliament and State Legislative Assemblies for various offences.

Relevance:

Focus: GS-II Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Details regarding criminal cases against legislators from SC report
  2. Madras High Court on special courts for MPs, MLAs
  3. Views of the High Court
  4. Way Forward

Details regarding criminal cases against legislators from SC report

  • Over 4,400 criminal trials are pending against legislators. Of this over 2500 trials involve sitting legislators.
  • The cases were pending in various special courts exclusively set up to try criminal cases registered against politicians.
  • The cases against the legislators include that of corruption, money laundering, damage to public property, defamation and cheating.
  • A large number of cases were for violation of Section 188 IPC for wilful disobedience and obstruction of orders promulgated by public servants.
  • There are more than 400 cases in respect of offences, which are punishable with imprisonment for life, out of which in 174 cases sitting MPs/ MLAs are accused.
  • The trial of more than 350 cases had been stayed by High Courts and the apex court.
  • A large number of cases were pending at the appearance stage and even non-bailable warrants (NBWs) issued by courts have not been executed.
  • As per the report submitted in the Supreme Court, Uttar Pradesh tops the chart.

Madras High Court on special courts for MPs, MLAs

  • A three-judge committee of the Madras High Court has questioned the constitutional validity of setting up Special Courts to exclusively try MPs and MLAs for various crimes.
  • The High Court Committee report comes in the face of a 2017 Supreme Court order authorising the Centre to set up 12 Special Courts to exclusively try criminal politicians across the country.
  • It also comes at a time when a three-judge Bench of the apex court led by Justice N.V. Ramana is looking at ways to expedite these trials pending for years, in some cases, for decades.
  • The committee raised strong reservations against setting up Special Courts in Tamil Nadu.

Views of the High Court

  • The Madras High Court Bench said the Special Courts should be “offence-centric” and not “offender-centric.”
  • An MP/MLA, who commits an offence under the POCSO Act [or other Special Acts like Prevention of Corruption Act, Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act] can only be tried by a Special Court created under the POCSO Act [PC Act, NDPS Act] and there cannot be another Special Court exclusively for trial of an MP/MLA, who commits POCSO offence.
  • The committee pointed to how witnesses, probably in Kanyakumari, have to travel 700 km to Chennai to testify at the Special Court there, and nothing is specified about their safety.

Way Forward

  1. Judicial pronouncements on making it difficult for criminal candidates to contest are necessary, only enhanced awareness and increased democratic participation could create the right conditions for the decriminalization of politics.
  2. There needs to be an increased and sincere monitoring the affidavits of candidates.
  3. Working with the Election Commission in monitoring compliance with the Supreme Court judgment to see if details of tainted candidates are promptly put up on their websites, and on their social media handles, along with proper reasons for giving them ticket.
  4. Voters also need to be vigilant about misuse of money, gifts and other inducements during elections.
  5. Voters also need to be wary of fake news, trolling, and fanciful claims.
  6. Discouraging political parties from fielding criminals as candidates
  7. Adequate security measures during elections
  8. Role of money in election should be lowered

-Source: The Hindu

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September 2022
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