The report of parliamentary committees can be relied upon in courts for interpretation of statutory provisions wherever necessary, a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday. A five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, however, clarified that findings of parliamentary committees cannot be questioned or challenged in a court. In three separate but concurring verdicts, the Bench said it has to strike a “delicate balance” between the legislature and the judiciary by deciding a controversy without allowing anyone to challenge the parliamentary reports.
Courts can take notice of parliamentary standing committee reports, which were admissible under the Evidence Act, it said.
Noting that reports of parliamentary committees become part of the published record of the state, it said there was no reason to exclude them from the purview of court proceedings.
“Parliamentary Standing Committee report can be taken aid of for the purpose of interpretation of a statutory provision wherever it is so necessary and also it can be taken note of as existence of a historical fact. Judicial notice can be taken of the Parliamentary Standing Committee report under Section 57(4) of the Evidence Act and it is admissible under Section 74 of the said Act,” said the Bench which also included Justices AK Sikri, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan.
“In a litigation filed either under Article 32 or Article 136 of the Constitution, this Court can take on record the report of Parliamentary Standing Committee. However, the report cannot be impinged or challenged in a court of law,” it said.
The ruling came on PILs on untimely death of some young girls in 2008 in Andhra Pradesh due to alleged administration of cervical cancer vaccine and the grant of compensation to their families. The petitioners, seeking compensation for the victims’ families, had relied on the 81st Report of Parliamentary Standing Committee of December 22, 2014, which indicted some pharma companies for conducting trials of the controversial Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine.
The issue was referred to a five-judge constitution bench to determine if a parliamentary standing committee report could be relied upon during judicial proceedings and if its veracity could be questioned.
The admission of parliamentary standing committee reports as evidence did not amount to breach of parliamentary privilege, the bench ruled.
“All references to parliamentary proceedings and materials do not amount to breach of privilege to invite contempt of Parliament. When a party relies on any fact stated in the report as the matter of noticing an event or history, no exception can be taken on reliance on such report.
“However, no party can be allowed to ‘question’ or ‘impeach’ a report of Parliamentary Committee. The parliamentary privilege that it shall not be impeached or questioned outside Parliament shall equally apply both to a party who files claim in the court and the other who objects to it. Both parties cannot impeach or question the report,” the bench said.