A five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra on Wednesday held that the admission of published parliamentary standing committee reports as evidence does not amount to breach of parliamentary privilege.
In three separate but concurrent judgments, the Bench unanimously held that the “delicate balance” between the legislature and the judiciary under the Doctrine of Separation of Powers will not be upset if the court takes on record a published parliamentary report and examines its contents to better understand and resolve a social evil.
The judgments came on a petition about cervical cancer vaccines.
Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, for the petitioner, had referred to the 81st report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health and Family Welfare that deals with the issue of drugs relating to Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine.
Pharma firms' stand
The pharmaceutical companies were opposed to the petitioner banking on the parliamentary committee report in court.
Supporting the petitioner’s submissions, the Bench ruled that courts cannot be oblivious of the work of Parliament. If courts became allies to blackout of information, it would lead to totalitarianism, Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and A.K. Sikri, on the Bench, said in their opinion.
Chief Justice Misra, along with Justice A.M. Khanwilkar, noted that the admission of published parliamentary standing committee reports by courts as evidence was not a breach of privilege. He said published parliamentary reports came within the ambit of Section 57(4) of the Evidence Act.
It was a public record and there was no need to get prior permission of the Lok Sabha Speaker, the Bench held.
Justice Chandrachud observed that the doctrine of separation of powers had moved away from the concept of one organ and one law. The judge wrote that each arm of governance should complement the functions of the other.
The judgments concluded that there was no reason for courts to exclude published parliamentary standing committee reports for checking historical facts, nature of the problem addressed, the cause of the social evil and its remedies.
Justice Ashok Bhushan, in his opinion, said fair comment on a published parliamentary report did not amount to breach of parliamentary privilege.
The question of law as to whether a parliamentary committee report could be relied upon in a judicial proceeding was referred to the Constitution Bench in April 2017.
The court said the Constitution Bench would answer whether it “might be crossing the boundary of federal structure” by acting on the basis of a parliamentary committee report in a public interest litigation petition.