Q. What are the parliamentary privileges enshrined in the constitution for protecting the authority and dignity of the house and its members?
Ans. Sir Thomas Erskine May has defined Parliamentary privileges as “The sum of the peculiar rights enjoyed by each House collectively as a constituent part of Parliament, and by the members of each house of parliament individually, without which they could not discharge their functions, and which exceed those possessed by other bodies or individuals.” These are special rights, immunities and exemptions enjoyed by the two Houses of Parliament, their committees and their members. They are necessary in order to secure the independence and effectiveness of their actions.
SOURCES OF PARLIAMENTARY PRIVILEGES
- Constitutional provisions
- Various laws made by parliament
- Rules of both the houses
- Parliamentary conventions
- Judicial Interpretations
- Right of Publication of proceedings: In has the right to publish its reports, debates and proceedings and also the right to prohibit others from publishing the same. However, the 44th Amendment Act of 1978 restored the freedom of the press to publish true reports of parliamentary proceedings without prior permission of the House.
- Right to regulate procedure and conduct: It can make rules to regulate its own procedure and the conduct of its business and to adjudicate upon such matters.
- Right to Punish: It can punish members as well as outsiders for breach of its privileges or its contempt by reprimand, admonition or imprisonment (also suspension or expulsion, in the case of members).
- Right to Information: It has the right to receive immediate information of the arrest, detention, conviction, imprisonment and release of a member.
- Right to Inquire: It can institute inquiries and order the attendance of witnesses and send for relevant papers and records.
- Prohibit Courts: The courts are prohibited to inquire into the proceedings of the House or its committees.
- No person (either a member or outsider) can be arrested, and no legal process (civil or criminal) can be served within the precincts of the House without the permission of the presiding officer.
- Privilege in Civil and Criminal Cases: They cannot be arrested during the session of Parliament and 40 days before the beginning and 40 days after the end of a session. This privilege is available only in civil cases and not in criminal cases or preventive detention cases.
- Freedom of speech: They have freedom of speech in Parliament. No member is liable to any proceedings in any court for anything said or any vote given by him in Parliament or its committees. This freedom is subject to the provisions of the Constitution and to the rules and standing orders regulating the procedure of Parliament.
- Exemption from Jury service: They are exempted from jury
- service. They can refuse to give evidence and appear as a witness in a case pending in a court when Parliament is in session.
Without these privileges, the Houses can neither maintain their authority, dignity and honour nor can protect their members from any obstruction in the discharge of their parliamentary responsibilities