TOPIC 5 Breach of Privilege and Contempt of the House
Breach of Privilege and Contempt of the House
According to the noted constitutional expert Sub hash Kashyap, breach of privilege is an act of attack on or disregard of any privileges, rights or immunities of either House of Parliament or its committees or its members. On the other hand, the contempt of the House is defined as an act of omission which obstructs the Parliament or its members from efficient discharge of its functions or which has the effect of lowering the dignity of Parliament or its members.
The notion of contempt of the House can not be strictly defined. The distinction between the breach of privilege and contempt of the House is that there can be contempt of the House without any breach of Privileges. The contempt is more concerned with an act of disrespect or disregard to the authority or dignity of the Parliament or its members. In any case, the sole authority to decide about the contempt is the Parliament.
Again, there are certain practices and conventions with respect to parliament which should be followed by concerned persons in usual course, but if they are not followed, it is considered a breach of previleges. Non-observance of these practices is simply termed as improper on the part of the concerned authorities. The example of these practices is not to make policy Statement outside the Parliament if it is in session, extending full cooperation to the members of parliamentary committees during their tour, or displaying due courtesy to members of Parliament in the official functions etc.
Punishment for Breach of Privilege or Contempt of the House
Each House of Parliament or State Legislature is competent and empowered to punish persons including their own members, if they are found guilty of breach of privilege or contempt of the House. The punishment may be in the form of reprimanding or admonition or even imprisonment in extreme cases. The imprisonment may extend till the ongoing session of Parliament or the State Legislature as the case may be. In addition, the House may award other punishments to its members such as suspension from the House for a definite period or even expulsion from the House.
The procedure for bringing the motion for breach of privilege or contempt of the House is given in the Rules of procedures of the Lok Sabha (Rules 222 to 228 and Rules 313 to 316). Accordingly, any member may raise the question of breach of privilege by giving notice to that effect to the Secretary-General of the concerned House before the Commencement of the sitting of the day. If the Speaker or the Chairman of the House gives his consent to raise the matter in the House, the concerned member is allowed to raise the matter just after the Question Hour is over.
The member is first required to take the leave of the House. If not less than 25 members of the House agree to the motion, the leave of the House is granted. After that the matter is usually referred to the privilege committee for further examination. The Committee submits its report in the House within a stipulated period. The Report of the privilege committee is taken for consideration by the House. The House may agree or disagree with the report. The final action is taken as per the decision of the House regarding the Report of the committee. The question of privilege is given priority over other matters included in the business of the House.
However, the House adopts a liberal view with respect to the majority of cases of breach of privileges. Most of the time, the unconditional apology tendered by the concerned offender may cool down the matter. Many a time, the Parliament finds it below their dignity to punish in each case of breach of privilege.
The keystone of the entire edifice is the notion that the Parliament is the sole judge of the question whether there is a breach of privilege or not. Thus, their power to punish persons for the contempt of the House is not subject to judicial interference. This position was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1959 in the Searchlight case and further by the High Court of Allahabad in Keshav Singh case in 1965. The above legal position pre¬vails even today. Thus, each House of Parliament or State Legislature is the master of its own procedure and is the sole judge of the question whether its contempt has been committed or not.
Freedom of the Press and Parliamentary Privileges
The press plays an important role in the democratic process. In fact the press is the medium between the people and the government institutions. The Freedom of the press is a fundamental right under right to freedom of speech within Article 19 (1) a. If the proceedings of the House are published under the authority of the House, the concerned persons shall not be liable to any judicial proceedings in the court of Law Normally, no restrictions are imposed on the publication of true proceedings of the House in the Newspaper. However, in the following cases, the publication in press involves the breach of privilege:
(a) If newspaper reports are malafide and there is deliberate misrepresentation of facts,
(b) If the proceeding of a committee is published before it submits its report to the house;
(c) If a newspaper publishes the proceedings of a secret sitting of the House; and
(d) If those portions of debates or proceedings are published which are expunged from the proceedings of the House.
It should be further noted that fair and valid criticism or shortcomings of the Parliament, published in the Newspapers or books are not punished. No action is taken in fair and bonafide criticism of the House