New Delhi: Several MPs have given breach of privilege notices against actor Om Puri and ex-policewoman Kiran Bedi for using "derogatory and defamatory" language against Members of Parliament. In light of this, we explain the concept of breach of privilege and contempt of Parliament.
What is parliamentary privilege?
Parliamentary privilege refers to rights and immunities enjoyed by Parliament as an institution and MPs in their individual capacity, without which they cannot discharge their functions as entrusted upon them by the Constitution.
Are these parliamentary privileges defined under law?
According to the Constitution, the powers, privileges and immunities of Parliament and MP's are to be defined by Parliament. No law has so far been enacted in this respect. In the absence of any such law, it continues to be governed by British Parliamentary conventions.
What is breach of privilege?
A breach of privilege is a violation of any of the privileges of MPs/Parliament. Among other things, any action 'casting reflections' on MPs, parliament or its committees; could be considered breach of privilege. This may include publishing of news items, editorials or statements made in newspaper/magazine/TV interviews or in public speeches.
Have there been earlier cases of breach of privilege?
There have been several such cases. In 1967, two people were held to be in contempt of Rajya Sabha, for having thrown leaflets from the visitors' gallery.
In 1983, one person was held in breach for shouting slogans and throwing chappals from the visitors' gallery.
What is the punishment in case of breach of privilege or contempt of the House?
The house can ensure attendance of the offending person. The person can be given a warning and let go or be sent to prison as the case may be.
In the case of throwing leaflets and chappal, the offending individuals were sentenced to simple imprisonment.
In the 2007 case of breach of privilege against Ambassador Ronen Sen, the Lok Sabha Committee on privileges held that the phrase "headless chicken" was not used by Shri Sen in respect of MPs or politicians. No action was taken against him.
In 2008, an editor of an Urdu weekly referred to the deputy chairman of Rajya Sabha as a "coward" attributing motives to a decision taken by him. The privileges committee held the editor guilty of breach of privilege. The committee instead of recommending punishment stated that, “it would be better if the House saves its own dignity by not giving undue importance to such irresponsible articles published with the sole intention of gaining cheap publicity.”