The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear next week a plea by the Union Territory (UT) of Lakshadweep challenging the January 25 order of the Kerala High Court which had suspended the conviction of Lakshadweep MP Mohammed Faizal in an attempt to murder case.
Faizal stood disqualified from the membership of Lok Sabha from January 11, the date of his conviction by a sessions court in Kavaratti, according to a notification issued on January 13 by the Lok Sabha Secretariat.
Later, on January 25, the high court had suspended his conviction and sentence until disposal of the appeal before it, saying that not doing so would result in fresh elections for his vacant seat which would impose an immense financial burden on the government and the public.
The plea challenging the high court order was mentioned for urgent listing before a bench comprising Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justices P S Narasimha and J B Pardiwala.
The bench told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who mentioned the plea, that the matter would be heard next week.
In the plea, filed through advocate Akshay Amritanshu, the Union territory administration has said that through the interim order, the high court has suspended the conviction and sentence imposed on Faizal till the disposal of the appeal before it.
“In the present case, the respondent no.1 (Faizal) failed to make out any exceptional circumstance for his conviction to be suspended and the reason assigned by the high court for suspension of conviction and sentence is alien to the exercise of jurisdiction under section 389 CrPC,” it said.
The plea claimed the implication of the interim order is that “any and every disqualification of an elected representative would automatically have to be suspended, as every conviction leading to disqualification and consequently bye-election, would call for (i) financial burden to the state exchequer and (ii) limited/lesser tenure of the elected candidate.”
During the day, the Election Commission withheld the Lakshadweep Lok Sabha bypoll after the high court suspended the conviction and sentence of Faizal in the case.
The poll panel had announced the bypoll recently and it was to be held on February 27.
The by-election was announced following the disqualification Faizal on grounds of his conviction by the sessions court.
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On January 27, the Election Commission had told the apex court that it will take note of the high court order suspending Faizal’s conviction and take action in accordance with law.
The top court was hearing a plea filed by Faizal challenging the Election Commission’s press note announcing conduct of by-election in his erstwhile Lakshadweep constituency.
In its plea filed in the apex court challenging the January 25 order of the high court, the UT administration has referred to several verdicts of the top court and said in no case it has held that financial burden or duration of tenure would be a criteria or would fall within the rare and exceptional category to suspend conviction.
“The principles of democracy, purity of elections and decriminalisation of politics have all been accepted and acknowledged by the high court but ignored by the high court while passing the interim impugned order,” it said.
The plea said the consequence of the interim order is that the disqualification of Faizal is “wiped out” and the mandate and spirit of Article 102 of the Constitution and section 8 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 is nullified.
It said the entire object of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 to disqualify convicted elected representatives and to ensure convicted elected representatives are disqualified “stands negated” by the interim order of the high court.
The plea said the right to contest an election is not a fundamental right, but a statutory right and the high court gave “undue weightage” to the fact that general elections were due in 2024.
“The inadvertent consequence of this observation is that even an MP who may be convicted in extremely serious cases terror related etc., would be able to get suspension of conviction,” it said.
It said the high court has failed to appreciate the drastic effect of suspension of conviction on rule of law, public interest and the principle of decriminalisation/purity of politics should far outweigh any interest of Faizal.
“The high court had misdirected itself while observing that holding of elections would lead to various developmental activities in Lakshadweep coming to a halt for a few weeks. It is submitted that holding of elections is an essential feature of democracy,” the plea said.
It said an elected member of Parliament, who stands convicted of attempt to murder along with being an accused in three other cases, is a “serious reflection” of the character of the accused.