Identify the collective and individual privileges granted to legislators by the Constitution. Considering the recent Supreme Court judgment, discuss the need to strike a balance between protecting legislative privileges and ensuring the accountability of legislators.


Supreme court has overturned its judgment in JMM bribery case and held that both the court and Parliament can exercise jurisdiction on the actions of lawmakers in parallel.


  • Introduce your answer by defining privileges, their source and importance.
  • In the main body, list the collective privileges like – power to punish for contempt, autonomy in conducting affairs, right to publish reports and exclude strangers from proceedings, etc. and individual privileges like freedom of speech, immunity from arrest, exemption from jury service, etc. Next address the need for a balance between protecting privileges and accountability to prevent abuse of power, increase public trust, ensuring legislative integrity and efficiency, promoting responsible representation, etc.
  • Conclude by affirming the importance of balancing privileges with accountability to uphold democracy, integrity, and public interest.

Answer:  Parliamentary privileges are special rights, immunities, and exemptions enjoyed by the two houses of parliament, their committees, and their members. Rooted in the Constitution of India, specifically under Articles 105 (for Members of Parliament) and 194 (for Members of State Legislatures), these privileges are essential for legislators to perform their duties without external hindrances. They encompass both collective privileges, which protect the integrity and independence of the legislative bodies themselves, and individual privileges, which safeguard the members’ freedom of speech and offer immunity from certain legal actions.

Collective Privileges to Legislators:

  • Power to Punish for Contempt: Legislators collectively hold the power to punish for contempt, ensuring the smooth functioning of the legislative body.
  • Autonomy in Conducting Affairs: Legislators have the autonomy to conduct their own affairs within the legislative body without external interference.
  • Right to Publish Reports, Debates, and Proceedings: without fear of legal consequences
    • Aligned with Article 105 and Article 194, which guarantee freedom of speech in Parliament and State Legislature respectively.
  • Right to Exclude Strangers from Proceedings: empowers the legislative bodies to maintain decorum and confidentiality.
  • Right to Make Rules of Procedure: grants autonomy to Parliament and State Legislatures and prohibits courts from questioning the validity of proceedings on alleged irregularities of procedure.
    • Article 122 and Article 212.
  • Right to Punish for Breach of Privileges: allows Parliament and State Legislatures to maintain order and discipline by imposing sanctions.
    • In 2017, the Karnataka assembly Speaker ordered the imprisonment of two journalists for a year.

Individual Privileges to Legislators:

  • Freedom of Speech: within the legislative assembly, essential for representing constituents effectively and express dissenting opinions without fear of reprisal.
  • Protection from Legal Consequences: for their speech and votes in the Parliament or state assemblies.
  • Freedom from Arrest: legislators enjoy immunity from arrest in civil cases during sessions and 40 days before and after such sessions.
  • Exemption from Jury Service: when Parliament or State Legislatures are in session, recognizing their primary duty to legislative responsibilities.

The Supreme Court’s landmark judgment serves as a pivotal moment in redefining the scope of parliamentary privileges in India. By distinguishing between the protections necessary for the functioning of democracy and the misuse of these privileges to shield criminal acts such as corruption and bribery, the Court has reinforced the foundational principles of accountability, transparency, and the rule of law.

Need for Balance between Privileges and Accountability:

  • Preventing Abuse of Power: SC emphasized that privileges are not absolute and must align with the essential functioning of legislative bodies. This facilitates the democratic process, not to evade accountability.
    • The 1998 JMM bribery case verdict which granted immunity from bribery charges, underscored the risk of legislative privilege abuse.
  • Maintaining Public Confidence in Legislative Processes: Public trust in the legislative bodies is crucial for a functioning democracy. Transparent and accountable governance, reassures the public that their elected representatives act in the nation’s best interest.
    • The expulsion of MPs in the 2005 Cash-for-Questions scandal helped restore trust.
  • Ensuring Legislative Integrity and Efficiency: Striking a balance between privileges and accountability ensures that legislative bodies function effectively and encourages legislators to adhere to ethical standards.
    • Representation of the People Act disqualifies corrupt legislators.
  • Upholding the Principle of Equality Before the Law: Ensuring that legislators are not above the law and are accountable for criminal actions like any other citizen.
    • SC rejected creating a class of public servants with extraordinary protection against bribery charges.
  • Strengthening Democracy and the Separation of Powers: By delineating the boundaries of legislative privileges, the judiciary reinforces the principle of checks and balances.
  • Protecting the Public Interest: Ensuring accountability in the use of legislative privileges safeguards public resources and interests.
  • Promoting Responsible Representation: Legislators are elected to represent and serve the interests of their constituents. Accountability mechanisms ensure they fulfill this role responsibly, without succumbing to corruption or undue influence.

While privileges are indispensable, they must be exercised responsibly and in accordance with the principles of transparency, integrity, and public interest. The judgment is a step forward in nurturing a democratic ethos that values ethical conduct and responsible governance, ultimately strengthening India’s parliamentary democracy.

‘+1’ value addition:

  • Parliamentary privileges are the foundation stones of democratic governance, providing legislators with the necessary autonomy to fulfill their duties without fear or favor. – Dr. B.R. Ambedkar
  • While parliamentary privileges are essential for the smooth functioning of the legislative process, they must be exercised judiciously and in the public interest to maintain public trust in democratic institutions. – Granville Austin
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