The legislature and the courts
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Parliamentary standing committees
2018/ SC: Courts can rely on House panel reports
Dhananjay Mahapatra, ‘Courts can rely on House panel reports’, May 10, 2018: The Times of India
Fair Criticism Of Such Reports Not To Invite Breach Of Privilege Notice, Says SC
In a first, the Supreme Court ruled that parliamentary standing committee reports, often cited by PIL petitioners, could be relied upon by constitutional courts to ensure socioeconomic rights of citizens.
Giving a ruling in a virgin field involving sensitive legislature-judiciary interplay, a Constitution bench of CJI Dipak Misra and Justices A K Sikri, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan was unanimous that judicial notice could be taken of these reports but put a caveat that the contents, conclusions and views expressed by individual MPs in such reports could not be challenged in a court of law.
In another sub-ruling, the CJI said fair criticism of such reports would not invite notice for breach of parliamentary privilege from the House concerned. “Parliamentary standing committee report being in public domain can invite fair comments and criticism from citizens as in such a situation, the citizens do not really comment upon any member of Parliament to invite the hazard of violation of parliamentary privilege,” the bench said.
However, Justice Bhushan said, “When comments turn into personal attack on an individual MP or House or are made in vulgar or abusive language tarnishing the image of a member or House, the said comments amount to contempt of the House or breach of privilege.”
If senior advocates Colin Gonsalves and Anand Grover scored a victory of sorts in getting SC’s nod to PIL petitioners relying on parliamentary standing committee reports to bolster their case, the SC struck a balance by accepting arguments from senior advocate Harish Salve, attorney general K K Venugopal and Shyam Divan that when the contents of such reports were contentious, constitutional courts could not rely upon it while rendering a decision.
In a writ petition filed by Kalpana Mehta and others, the testing of a vaccine to prevent cervical cancer manufactured by a private firm on women by the governments of Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh without their consent was challenged. During the arguments, the report of a parliamentary standing committee was cited, which was objected to by the Centre, which pointed to the doctrine of separation of power between legislature and judiciary. This issue was referred to a five-judge bench.
Though there were three separate judgments, one by the CJI and Justice Khanwilkar, another by Justices Sikri and Chandrachud and the third by Justice Bhushan, all the conclusions were identical.