SC to decide on use of parliamentary reports in court cases

RSTV Bureau
File Photo of Supreme Court of India building in New Delhi.

File Photo of Supreme Court of India building in New Delhi.

Keeping the separation of power of legislature and judiciary in mind, the Supreme Court today threw open a question how it would adjudicate if a party disputed the veracity of a report of a parliamentary standing committee.

A five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra today reserved its verdict after hearing arguments on the matter for almost five days from a battery of senior lawyers including Attorney General K K Venugopal, Harish Salve, Colin Gonsalves and Anand Grover.

The bench was faced with such questions including whether the court can rely on or refer to parliamentary committee reports in judicial proceedings.

“We appreciate the separation of powers. The question is as to how we will deal with the parliamentary committee report, once a party contests the report. How we will adjudicate,” the bench, also comprising Justices A K Sikri, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan, said today.

The issue whether a parliamentary panel report can be relied upon in judicial proceedings had arisen after the petitioners had referred to the 81st Report of Parliamentary Standing Committee of December 22, 2014, allegedly indicting some pharma firms for conducting trials of the controversial Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine.

Salve, appearing for a pharma company, had said that the report of a parliamentary standing committee has a “persuasive” value but was neither binding, nor could it be used to prove disputed facts.

The senior lawyer had also said that if a person is indicted in a report, how could he assail it in judicial proceedings and the scrutiny of such findings of a parliamentary panel in a court would be against the privilege of Parliament.

Attorney General (AG) Venugopal had concurred with the submissions of Salve and, while referring to the privileges of the House and its committees and the concept of separation of powers, said that no report of any committee of Parliament can be subjected to “judicial scrutiny or review”.

“The separation of power has been recognised as part of the basic structure of Constitution,” Venugopal had said.

On the issue whether parliamentary panel reports can be used in court, the AG had said, “the Committees of Parliament being an essential adjunct to Parliament, and their reports being for the purpose of advising and guiding Parliament for framing laws and the Executive for framing policies, it would be a breach of privilege of Parliament to judicially scrutinise and/or review these reports for any purpose whatsoever.”

Senior advocate Grover, appearing for a petitioner opposing the controversial HPV vaccine, had said he was not relying on the parliamentary panel report but had rather referred to it.

The case came up for hearing in the apex court in 2012 and centred around aspects relating to action taken by the Drugs Controller General of India and the Indian Council of Medical Research pertaining to the approval of HPV vaccine manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline Asia Pvt Ltd and MSD Pharmaceuticals Pvt Ltd to prevent cervical cancer in women.

While referring the matter to the five-judge bench on April 5, the top court had said it “might be crossing the boundary of federal structure” if it acted on the basis of a parliamentary committee report in a PIL.

It had said it was of the “prima facie view” that the Parliamentary Standing Committee report may not be tendered as a document to augment the stance on the factual score that a particular activity was unacceptable or erroneous.

The top court had then framed two questions — one, whether in a litigation filed before it either under Article 32 or Article 136 of the Constitution, the court can refer to and place reliance upon the report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee.

The second question framed for the constitution bench was “whether such a report can be looked at for the purpose of reference and, if so, can there be restrictions for the purpose of reference, regard being had to the concept of parliamentary privilege and the delicate balance between the constitutional institutions that Articles 105, 121 and 122 of the Constitution conceive”.

The court was hearing two PILs filed by activist Kalpna Mehta and Sama-Resource Group for Women and Health.

The issue of untimely death of some people and the grant of compensation to their families had arisen in the hearing in which the attention of the court was drawn to the Report of Parliamentary Standing Committee.

The Centre and state governments have maintained their stand that the vaccine was necessary and steps have been taken to avoid any kind of hazard.