New Delhi, Dec 18 : The Supreme Court on Friday sorted out a very curious legal query as to whether a vote cast by an MLA in the Rajya Sabha elections in the forenoon would become invalid if the MLA gets convicted in a criminal case in the afternoon of the same day. The top court ruled that vote cast by a lawmaker prior to his conviction, on the same day, cannot be termed as invalid.
A bench headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde and comprising Justices A.S. Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian said: “In our view, to hold that a member of the Legislative Assembly stood disqualified even before he was convicted would grossly violate his substantive right to be treated as innocent until proved guilty.”
The top court cited that in Australia, this principle has been described as an aspect of the rule of law “known both to the Parliament and the courts, upon which statutory language will be interpreted”.
A legislator stood disqualified as per Section 8(3) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 “from the date” of conviction.
The bench said it is not possible to hold that the vote cast by Jharkhand MLA Amit Kumar Mahto at 9:15 a.m. on March 23, 2018, should be treated as invalid on account of his conviction and sentence passed by the criminal court at 2:30 p.m. on the same day.
The bench observed that if the date on which scrutiny was taken up can be held to have ended at the time when the event of scrutiny was taken up, then the date of commencement of an event such as conviction and the consequent disqualification should also begin only from the time when the event happened.
The top court reasoned that the situation would be different if Mahto were to be convicted and sentenced in the forenoon, and having full knowledge of this fact, he voted in the election to the Rajya Sabha in the afternoon. The top court declined to entertain BJP candidate Pradeep Kumar Sonthalia’s plea seeking disqualification of Mahto’s vote, which benefited the election of Congress candidate Dheeraj Prasad Sahu, who won by a paper thin margin in the 2018 Rajya Sabha polls.
Sonthalia insisted that conviction was deemed in law to have commenced at about 00.01 a.m. when the date of March 22 lapsed and the date of March 23 began.
“To say that this presumption of innocence would evaporate from 00.01 a.m., though the conviction was handed over at 14.30 p.m. would strike at the very root of the most fundamental principle of criminal jurisprudence,” said the top court.
The bench ruled that the vote cast by Mahto at 9:15 a.m. on March 23, 2018 was rightly treated as a valid vote. “To hold otherwise would result either in an expectation that the Returning Officer should have had foresight at 9:15 a.m. about the outcome of the criminal case in the afternoon or in vesting with the Election Commission, a power to do an act that will create endless confusion and needless chaos,” said the top court.
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