On Monday, March 4, 2024, the Supreme Court of India overturned the 1998 PV Narasimha Rao judgment, a 25-year-old precedent, ruling that bribery charges are not protected by parliamentary privileges.

The Rao judgment held that members of parliament and legislative assembly could claim immunity under “Articles 105(2) and 194(2) of the Constitution for receiving a bribe in contemplation of a vote or speech in the legislature”, as per a Live Law article.

The judgment was in the context of bribery charges against Jharkhand Mukti Morcha MLA Sita Soren in connection with the 2012 Rajya Sabha.

Soren was accused of taking a bribe from an independent candidate to vote for him. As per an Indian Express report, “Sita Soren had moved the Jharkhand High Court for the quashing of the chargesheet and criminal proceedings against her, relying on the provisions of Article 194 (2), but the HC declined to do so.”

She then approached the SC and it was opined that the case should be presented before a larger three-bench of judges which was later prescribed to be presented to a seven-bench of judges.

The judgment was passed by a bench of seven judges including Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, and Justices AS Bopanna, MM Sundresh, PS Narasimha, JB Pardiwala, Sanjay Kumar, and Manoj Misra.

The bench said, “Corruption and bribery by members of the legislatures erode probity in public life...We hold that bribery is not protected by Parliamentary privileges."

The Livelaw article states, “The Court held that the offence of bribery as per the Prevention of Corruption Act is complete the moment the illegal gratification is taken and it is immaterial whether the legislator votes or gives a speech later in the house in terms of the bribe.”

The judges agreed, “The potential of misuse against individual members of the legislature is neither enhanced nor diminished by recognising the jurisdiction of the court to prosecute a member of the legislature, alleged to have indulged in an act of bribery.”