Political Candidates with Criminal Records can be Disqualified: Supreme Court

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Facts

A  petition was filed in 2011, by Public Interest Foundation who had essentially sought guidelines or framework to deal with the menace of criminalisation of politics and had demanded that those charged with serious offences be debarred from contesting elections.

The NGO had also demanded to lay down a time frame of six months during which trial of such persons is concluded in a time-bound manner. 

The question before the top court in the current case was whether such disqualification should run from the date of framing of charge by the court instead of waiting for the conclusion of the trial.

The matter was initially referred to a three-judge bench and then it was referred to a five-judge Constitution bench. 

The five-judge Bench commenced hearing on the petitions on August 9 and the final day of hearing was on August 28.b

Judgement

The Supreme Court ruled on September 25, 2018, that candidates cannot be disqualified from contesting elections merely because charges have been framed against them in a criminal case.

The ruling was delivered by a five-judge constitution bench of the Supreme Court, which was chaired by Chief Justice Dipak Misra and comprised Justices RF Nariman, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra. 

The judgment came on a batch of petitions filed by advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay, former Chief Election Commissioner JM Lyngdoh and NGO Public Interest Foundation.

Key Highlights 

The constitution bench held that candidates cannot be disqualified merely because charges have been framed against them in a criminal case. 

The bench also directed the legislature to consider framing a law to ensure decriminalisation of politics. 

Noting the steady rise in the criminalisation of politics in India, the bench issued the following directions for curbing the same:

• All candidates seeking to contest elections must declare their past criminal charges/ records. 

 Political parties must also display the full details of the criminal charges faced by their candidates on their official website. 

 Parliament must make a law to ensure candidates with criminal records don’t enter public life or take part in lawmaking.

• The Election Commission also must ensure that candidates clearly specify the details of their pending cases or criminal past at the time of filing their nominations in bold letters. 

• Political parties should also issue a declaration and give wide publicity in electronic media about the criminal past of the candidates.

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