Friday, July 12, 2013

Supreme Court bans people behind bars from contesting polls

New Delhi: 12 Jul 2013

In a landmark judgement, the Supreme Court on Thursday said that people behind bars cannot contest elections to legislative bodies. The decision will bring an end to an era of under trial politicians contesting elections from behind bars.

In another path-breaking verdict to prevent criminal elements from entering Parliament and state assemblies, the Apex Court ruled that only an 'elector' can contest the polls and he/she ceases the right to cast vote due to confinement in prison or being in custody of police.

The court, however, made it clear that disqualification would not be applicable to persons subjected to preventive detention under any law.

Referring to the Representation of the People Act, a bench of justices AK Patnaik and SJ Mukhopadhayay said that the Act (Section 4 & 5) lays down the qualifications for membership of the House of the People and Legislative Assembly and one of the qualifications laid down is that he must be an elector.

The bench said Section 62(5) of the Act says that no person shall vote at any election if he is confined in a prison, whether under a sentence of imprisonment or transportation or otherwise, or is in the lawful custody of the police.

Reading Sections 4, 5 and 62(5) together, the Apex Court came to the conclusion that a person in jail or police custody cannot contest elections.

The court passed the order on a appeal filed by the Chief Election Commissioner and others challenging a Patna High Court order barring people in police custody to contest polls.

\"We do not find any infirmity in the findings of the High Court in the impugned common order that a person who has no right to vote by virtue of the provisions of sub-section (5) of Section 62 of the 1951 Act is not an elector and is therefore not qualified to contest the election to the House of the People or the Legislative Assembly of a State,\" the Apex Court said.

In a landmark judgement on Wednesday, the same bench had struck down a provision in the Representation of the People Act that protects a convicted lawmaker from disqualification on the ground of pendency of appeal in higher courts.

The bench had also made it clear that MPs, MLAs and MLCs would stand disqualified on the date of conviction.

SC verdict may come up for review

Legal experts hailed the spirit of the Supreme Court verdict barring jailed people from contesting elections but said it may come up for review as several issues need to be clarified including its misuse by politicians to target rivals ahead of polls.

The experts feel that the verdict having wider ramifications is not the final word on this issue and may come up before the Apex Court for being decided by a larger or constitutional bench.
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