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NEW DELHI: When should a lawmaker accused in a criminal case be disqualified from holding office or contesting elections? A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court today referred the question of law for a five-judge constitutional bench to answer.

The matter will now be assigned by the Chief Justice of India to the larger bench. The court is to decide whether a lawmaker be disqualified on being convicted in a criminal case, when the police file a charge sheet or when charges are framed against him or her.

The current law says a Member of Parliament or a Member of Legislative Assembly is disqualified soon after conviction by a court in a criminal case. Earlier, such lawmakers enjoyed immunity if they had appealed in a higher court within a period of three months from being convicted by a lower court. But, a Supreme Court decision on July 10, 2013, took away that immunity.

After the 2010 order, Congress Rajya Sabha lawmaker Rasheed Masood became the first politician to be disqualified from holding office after he was sentenced to four years imprisonment in a case of corruption.

The petition was filed by the Public Interest Foundation in the Supreme Court five years ago and the matter was referred to the Law Commission. The commission submitted a report titled 'Electoral Disqualifications' in February 2014, recommending disqualification at the time of framing of charges.
The report, which was submitted to the government for placing before the top court, said, "disqualification upon conviction has proved to be incapable of curbing the growing criminalisation in politics, owing to long delays in trials and rare convictions."

Disqualification at the stage of framing of charges has "significant potential in curbing the spread of criminalisation of politics," the report said. A parliamentary standing committee however had rejected the recommendations of the Law Commission.

Tag(s) : #Asia-Pacific

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