Synopsis: Recently Facebook India head appealed in the Supreme Court against the summon by Delhi Assembly. SC should avoid any interference in the assembly’s right to discussion on important public matters.
A few months ago, the Delhi Legislative assembly issued a notice to the head of Facebook India, Ajit Mohan. The notice was for him to appear in front of the Assembly’s Peace and Harmony Committee. This committee is investigating the Delhi Riots.
Ajit Mohan filed a petition against this notice in Supreme Court. Hearing on this case is ongoing.
This petition will have implications on the separation of powers, federalism and fundamental rights in India.
Why Court should not interfere in Assembly’s right to discussion
Set of rights and immunities granted to Parliament are called Parliamentary privileges. The House of Commons has been granted the right to free speech and the right to call for evidence and witnesses in the House since 1689. Both Parliament and State Assemblies are granted with same privileges.
There are some misleading doubts that State Assemblies are on par with parliament on these matters.
- Firstly, discussion in legislatures are not only a part of law-making, it is also used in its non-judicial power of inquiry. This inquiry power is inherent to the legislature as it is the voice of the people of the state. For example, states inquire into the possible ecological implications of a nuclear waste site within the State. States often hear testimony from soldiers and pass resolutions to honour the armed forces.
- Secondly, it is not necessary that all discussions lead to lawmaking. Some discussions end with the arguments only. Thus, the interference of courts before the conclusion of the debate will be pointless.
- Third, Co-operative federalism cannot be promoted if assemblies are barred from even discussing matters, which are beyond their legislative competence.
- Fourth, Judiciary ought not to enter the domain where it will examine the proceedings of the house. It is against the separation of power.
- Fifth, the experiences of Canada and Australia in this matter also, go against any Court mandated restrictions on legislative competence.
Free speech in the house is a landmark of liberty. It allows elected representatives on behalf of people to challenge the most powerful people of the land. It would be incorrect if the Court appoints itself as an arbiter of legislative discussions.