On Friday, the Supreme Court held that vote cast by a lawmaker before his conviction even on the same day is valid.
Hon’ble Court observed that disqualifying a legislator even before he was convicted would violate his right to be treated as innocent until proven guilty.
Background of the Case:-
The instant issue was related to a vote cast by Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) MLA Mr Amit Kumar Mahto in Rajya Sabha Election (2018) at around 09:15 AM prior to his conviction at 02:30 PM in a case related to unlawful assembly and mischief.
The election was challenged by BJP candidate Pradeep Kumar Sonthalia who lost the Rajya Sabha election by a single vote and contended that Mahto’s vote should not be considered as he was disqualified on the same day, due to his conviction.
High Court of Jharkhand agreed with Sonthalia’s conviction and held that Mahto’s vote should not be considered as he was disqualified on the same day.
However, the High Court did not Sonthalia, a winner due to the highly complex and technical issues involved when a single vote is not considered.
The order was challenged before the Hon’ble Supreme Court, and another candidate Dhiraj Prasad Sahu joined the fray.
Is Vote Casted by a Lawmaker before his Conviction on the Same Day Valid?
The Hon’ble Supreme Court disagreed with the findings of the Jharkhand High Court observed that presumption of innocence could not be said to evaporate from 00:01 AM such a thing would strike at the very core of the most fundamental principle of Criminal Jurisprudence.
The effect of conviction cannot be said to take place before the time of conviction observed by the Bench.
While referring to Section 8(3) of Representation of People’s Act, the Court held that the consequences of a conviction could never precede the cause.
The Bench opined that if they accepted the arguments of the Appellants, it would imply that consequence precedes the cause.
As per the Hon’ble Court, if it held that the MLA in question was disqualified even before he was convicted, then it would violate the right of a person to be treated innocent until proven guilty.
While referring to relevant legal provisions, the COurt noted that if a person is disqualified before conviction, then it would mean that his vote would not be counted, which was not the case in this particular instance.
The Court also rejected the argument raised by Mr Sonthalia, who had contended that date means the whole day, as mentioned in Pashupati Nath Singh vs Harihar Prasad Singh, by stating that the case law did not support his contention.
As per the Bench, the time should be considered only from the start of an event like conviction, and therefore the disqualification can also be held to take effect from the time it occurred and not before that.
Title: Pradeep Kumar Sonthalia vs Dhiraj Prasad Sahu & Anr
Case No.: Civil Appeal No.: 611 of 2020
Date of Order:18.12.2020
Coram: Hon’ble Chief Justice SA Bobde, Hon’ble Justice V Ramasubramanium and Hon’ble Justice AS Bopanna