supreme-court-asks-high-courts-to-form-special-benches-to-decide-criminal-cases-involving-mps-mlas

Context: The Supreme Court has asked the Chief Justices of High Courts to head Special Benches and immediately hear long-pending criminal cases against sitting and former legislators.

Background:

  • The SC direction came in response to a PIL seeking a ban on convicted politicians from fighting elections.
  • Pending cases: There are about 175 cases under the Prevention of Corruption Act and 14 cases are pending under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 against sitting/former legislators.
    • There are over 2,500 criminal cases against sitting legislators, stuck at the stage of framing of criminal charges.
  • Reasons for pendency: One of the reasons for the pendency of cases was the stay granted by higher courts.
    • The powerful MPs and MLAs had approached the High Courts and got an interim stay. 

Supreme court directions:

  • Special benches to review stay: The Supreme Court asked the Chief Justices to list pending cases immediately before their own respective Special Benches and review if the stay on the criminal trial needs to continue at all.
    • In case the interim stay is still necessary, the Special Bench concerned should finally decide the pending petitions to quash the criminal trial filed by the accused legislators within two months.
    • There should not be any unnecessary adjournments. 
    • The hearings should proceed on a day-to-day basis. 
    • The COVID-19 restrictions would not apply as the hearings can be done through video-conferencing.
    • The bench also reminded the HC CJs about the 2018 SC judgment, which had ruled that if a stay on trial granted by the HC was more than six months old, then the trial court could proceed with the trial as if there was no stay. 
  • Special courts: The SC also asked the Chief Justices to come up with an action plan on the infrastructure and number of special courts required to exclusively try criminal politicians.
    • The court found there was only one special court each to try criminal cases against legislators in States like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana and West Bengal.
    • SC in 2017 had ordered the setting up of special courts in each state to try pending criminal cases against legislators.

Judicial interventions for electoral reforms

  • Association for Democratic Reforms v. Union of India (ADR) case, 2002: The SC mandated the disclosure of information relating to criminal antecedents, educational qualification, and personal assets of a candidate contesting elections.
  • In  Lily Thomas vs. Union of India, 2013, the Supreme Court stated that if a sitting MP/MLA is convicted (not only charged) then he/ she would be disqualified immediately and the seat would be declared vacant. 
    • It set aside Clause 8(4) of the Representation of the People Act which had provided special privilege to MPs/MLAs to hold the office even after conviction if an appeal has been filed in a higher court within the span of 3 months.
Image source: ToI