The Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected the Left Democratic Front-led Kerala government’s petition seeking the withdrawal of criminal cases against six Communist Party of India (Marxist) leaders for causing ruckus and vandalism in the state Assembly in 2015, reported Bar and Bench. The LDF was the Opposition party then.

The court ruled that the accused MLAs had crossed constitutional limits and cannot claim protection of legislative privileges and immunity under Article 194 of the Constitution, which ensures freedom of speech of legislators in the Assembly.

“Committing destruction of property in the Assembly cannot be equated to freedom of speech in the House,” the court said. “Allowing withdrawal of cases under these circumstances would amount to interference with the normal course of justice for illegitimate reasons.”

On March 13, 2015, Opposition leaders were protesting then Finance Minister KM Mani’s alleged involvement in a scandal related to corruption in granting bar licences. The protest had turned violent with nine people sustaining injuries. The Speaker’s chamber was vandalised and electronic equipment destroyed. However, Mani, protected by the Assembly security staff and United Democratic Front legislators, had managed to table the Budget.

Six CPI(M) members were booked under sections of the Indian Penal Code and the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act for vandalism in the Assembly. Of the accused, V Sivankutty is currently the education minister. KT Jaleel and EP Jayarajan were ministers in the previous LDF government. Other named in the cases are K Ajith, CK Sahadevan and K Kunhammed.

A Chief Judicial Magistrate court in Thiruvananthapuram had refused to allow the state government to withdraw the cases against the leaders. The state government had then approached the Kerala High Court against the order but it had dismissed the plea in March this year. After this, the government filed a Special Leave Petition in the Supreme Court against the High Court’s decision.

During Wednesday’s hearing, a bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and MR Shah upheld the Kerala High Court verdict. The court ruled that the immunity granted to the MLAs under Article 194 was not a mark of status that puts them on higher footing as compared to other citizens.

“Privileges and immunity is not a gate to claim exemption from criminal law and that would be a betrayal to the citizens,” the bench said. “Members [of the Assembly] are required to stay true to their oath and immunity is to help them discharge their functions freely.”

The court observed that lawmakers should act within the parameters of the public trust imposed on them to perform their duties, reported Live Law. “Members of state legislature has upon them a public trust and withdrawal of cases will allow an exemption of members from criminal law,” it said.

In an earlier hearing on July 5, the court had pulled up the LDF MLAs. “Prima facie, we have to take a strict view,” Justice Chandrachud had said. “This sort of behaviour is unacceptable. We will not condone this sort of behaviour of an MLA who destroyed public property. You have to face trial.”

Chandrachud had said that the MLAs concerned have to face trial under the Prevention of Damage to Public Properties Act.

In its petition, the state government had said that the High Court did not consider that the 2015 ruckus had happened when the Assembly was in session and that cases cannot be registered against MLAs without the sanction of the Speaker for incidents happening on the Floor of the House, reported Bar and Bench.

“The FIR registered by the Secretary Legislative Assembly without the consent of the Speaker is wrong...the act of the accused persons being in relation to their function to protest as members of the legislative assembly the MLA’s who are accused in this FIR had entitled to get protection under the Constitution,” the petition said.

Opposition demands state education minister’s resignation

Following the Supreme Court’s ruling, the Opposition United Democratic Front sought resignation of Kerala Education Minister V Sivankutty, who is an accused in the case, reported PTI.

Senior Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala, K Sudhakaran, VD Satheesan, Muslim League leader PK Kunhalikutty and Bharatiya Janata Party state president K Surendran were among those demanding Sivankutty’s resignation.

They said Sivankutty has lost the right to continue as a minister. However, Sivankutty suggested that he would not resign as the Supreme Court has not made any observation regarding his resignation.