Legislative privileges are rights, immunities and exemptions enjoyed by the houses of the legislatures, their committees and their members. They are necessary in order to secure the independence and effectiveness of their actions.. They allow the members to work without any fear of obstruction. While some are collective e.g conductive secret meetings, some are individual eg. freedom from jury service, freedom of speech in legislature etc. The Constitution recognises the privileges of Parliament and state legislatures under Articles 105 and 194, respectively.

Problem of legislative privileges as seen in the recent case where the Karnataka Assembly found two journalists breaching its privileges are as follows :

1. Some codified, others vague : Certain privileges, like the freedom of speech within the legislature, are codified under these provisions. On the others, the Constitution says that legislatures enjoy the same privileges as those of the House of Commons.
2. Parliament derives power from multiple sources: The Parliament, till now, has not made any special law to exhaustively codify all the privileges. They are based on five sources, namely,

  • Constitutional provisions,
  • Various laws made by Parliament,
  • Rules of both the Houses,
  • Parliamentary conventions, and
  • Judicial interpretations.

3.Usage of such powers :The last person to be imprisoned by the British Parliament was in 1880. In India however, this power has been frequently resorted to.

4. Article 105 and 194 versus Article 19 : The SC in Keshav Singh Case, the Raja Ram Pal vs Hon’ble Speaker, Lok Sabha and Ors., (2007) case and the recent Algaapuram R Mohanraj vs Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly, 2015 case have all upheld various articles such Articles 20 and 21 and Right to Equality as above Articles 105 and 194, but have rejected Article 19 (freedom of speech) as sacrosanct.
5. The Supreme Court’s jurisprudence remains unclear : Searchlight’ case (M.S.M. Sharma vs. S.K. Sinha, 1959) which concerned the publication of portions of proceedings of the Bihar Assembly, the Supreme Court held that the power of judicial review, applicable to ordinary law, could not be invoked to challenge an order made under Article 194, a Constitutional law.

While Constitutional courts have tried to stay away from interfering with the internal functioning of Parliament and state legislatures, inevitably they tend to get sucked in when the fundamental rights of citizens appear to be breached. It high time the legislative codifies its privileges as recommended by the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution 2002.

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