SC permits courts to refer to Parliamentary Committee reports

The Supreme Court on May 9, 2018 ruled that the courts can look into Parliamentary Standing Committee reports and take them into record while deciding on an issue.

The decision was taken by a five-judge constitution bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices AK Sikri, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan. The constitution bench unanimously held that placing reliance on Parliamentary Committee Reports in court proceedings does not violate the parliamentary privileges.

However, the bench made it clear that the parliamentary reports cannot be challenged in Courts.

SC Judgement: Key Highlights

  • The court stated that the parliamentary standing committee reports were in public domain and hence, relying on them would not be in violation of parliamentary privileges.
  • In a separate but concurring judgment, Justice D Y Chandrachud said, “there is no reason or justification” that the report of the Parliamentary Committee is not within the preview of the courts.
  • However, the reports cannot be impinged or challenged in a court of law.

 

A Five Judge Constitution Bench on Wednesday held that the Courts can rely on Parliamentary Standing Committee Reports.

The  Constitution Bench comprising the Chief Justice Dipak Misra, and Justices A.K.Sikri, A.M.Khanwilkar, D.Y.Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan unanimously held that placing reliance on Parliamentary Committee Reports in Court Proceedings does not violate the parliamentary privileges. But the bench has made it clear that the reports cannot be challenged in Courts.

A Two Judge Bench of Supreme of India in April, 2017 referred the following questions for the consideration of Constitution Bench.

(i) Whether in a litigation filed before this Court either under Article 32 or Article 136 of the Constitution of India, the Court can refer to and place reliance upon the report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee?

(ii) Whether such a Report can be looked at for the purpose of reference and, if so, can there be restrictions for the purpose of reference regard 34 being had to the concept of parliamentary privilege and the delicate balance between the constitutional institutions that Articles 105, 121 and 122 of the Constitution conceive? 

Answers given by CJI in his Judgment

(i) Parliamentary Standing Committee report can be taken aid of for the purpose of interpretation of a statutory provision wherever it is so necessary and also it can be taken note of as existence of a historical fact.

(ii) Judicial notice can be taken of the Parliamentary Standing Committee report under Section 57(4) of the Evidence Act and it is admissible under Section 74 of the said Act.

(iii) In a litigation filed either under Article 32 or Article 136 of the Constitution of India, this Court can take on record the report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee. However, the report cannot be impinged or challenged in a court of law.

(iv) Where the fact is contentious, the petitioner can always collect the facts from many a source and produce such facts by way of affidavits, and the Court can render its verdict by way of independent adjudication.

(v) The Parliamentary Standing Committee report being in the public domain can invite fair comments and criticism from the citizens as in such a situation, the citizens do not really comment upon any member of the Parliament to invite the hazard of violation of parliamentary privilege

The Bench comprising of Justices Dipak Misra and Rohinton Fali Nariman was considering petitions relating to the action taken by the Drugs Controller General of India and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) pertaining to approval of a vaccine, namely, Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) manufactured M/s. Glaxo Smith Kline Asia Pvt. Ltd. and MSD Pharmaceuticals Private Limited, respectively for preventing cervical cancer in women and the experimentation of the vaccine was done as an immunization by the Governments of Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh with the charity provided by PATH International. The issue also arose with regard to the untimely death of certain persons and grant of compensation.

In the course of proceedings, attention of the Court was drawn to the 81st Report dated 22nd December, 2014 of the Parliamentary Standing Committee.

Then an issue was raised from the bar as to whether the Court while exercising the power of judicial review or its expansive jurisdiction under Article 32 dealing with the public interest litigation, can advert to the report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee and on that basis issue directions.

Mr. Mukul Rohatgi, Attorney General of India has filed a written note of submission contending that the reports of the Parliamentary Standing Committee are at best external aids of construction in order to determine the surrounding circumstances or the historical facts for the purpose of discerning the mischief sought to be remedied, but not for any other purpose.

Senior Advocates Anand Grover and Collin Gonsalves, appearing for the petitioners, submitted that looking at the report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee by the Court in a writ petition preferred under Article 32 of the Constitution is only to be apprised about facts to arrive at a conclusion for the purpose of issue of necessitous directions and there cannot be absolute rule that it cannot be looked at.

They also contended that as long as the reference to report does not violate the freedom of speech of the members of the Committee or there is no attempt to impugn the report or criticize the same, reliance on the same should not be prohibited.

After referring many authorities the bench observed that the Parliamentary Standing Committee is a committee constituted under the Rules and what a member speaks over there is absolutely within the domain of that committee. Freedom of speech of a member of a Committee is only guided subject to provisions of the Constitution and the Rules and standing orders regulating the procedure of Parliament.

The bench also observed that while exercising the power of judicial review or to place reliance on the report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee, the doctrine of restraint has to be applied by this Court as required under the Constitution.

“The view of a member of the Parliament or a member of the Parliamentary Standing Committee who enjoys freedom of speech and expression within the constitutional parameters and the rules or regulations framed by the Parliament inside the Parliament or the Committee is not to be adverted to by the court in a lis”. 

According to the bench, the invitation to contest a Parliamentary Standing Committee report is likely to disturb the delicate balance that the Constitution provides between the constitutional institutions. If the Court allows contest and adjudicates on the report, it may run counter to the spirit of privilege of Parliament which the Constitution protects.

The Bench was of the prima facie of the view that the Parliamentary Standing Committee report may not be tendered as a document to augment the stance on the factual score that a particular activity is unacceptable or erroneous.

“However, regard being had to the substantial question of law relating to interpretation of the Constitution involved, we think it appropriate that the issue be referred to the Constitution Bench under Article 145(3) of the Constitution bench”.

Then the bench formulated the above questions and referred the matter and directed to place the matter before the Chief Justice to constitute the appropriate bench.

 

Significance

The judgment will help NGOs, which frequently file PILs in the SC, to rely on Parliamentary Standing Committee reports that are often critical of the government to seek relief for people under various welfare schemes.

Background

• The judgment by the five-judge bench came up on a question whether such reports could be relied upon while deciding an issue.

• A two-judge bench of the Supreme Court of India in April, 2017 referred the following questions for the consideration of Constitution Bench:

1. Whether in a litigation filed before this Court either under Article 32 or Article 136 of the Constitution of India, the court can refer to and place reliance upon the report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee?

2. Whether such a Report can be looked at for the purpose of reference and, if so, can there be restrictions for the purpose of reference.

• The issue was rooted in a public interest plea that was filed by a petitioner called Kalpana Mehta, who questioned the efficacy of a vaccine produced by two drug companies for the treatment of cervical cancer.

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