The Supreme Court on August 28th, 2018 said that the voters have a right to know the antecedents of candidates and the Election Commission could be asked to direct political parties to ensure that persons, facing criminal charges, do not contest on their tickets using their poll symbols.
The court has reserved its judgment on a batch of petitions after the parties including the poll panel and the Centre concluded their arguments.
The matter came up for hearing before a five-judge Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra. The matter involved the question whether a legislator facing criminal trial can be disqualified at the stage of framing of charges in a case. Presently, lawmakers are barred at the time of conviction.
"The voters have the right to know the candidates. Actually, a party can allow a person to contest on its ticket. But a person cannot contest on its ticket if he discloses the criminal antecedent," the bench said, adding that this direction may be given by the Election Commission to the political parties. "They (people facing criminal charges) can contest elections, but they will not contest on the party ticket because he has this kind of stigma," the bench said.
The bench's observation came in the backdrop of strong opposition from the Centre that the judiciary should not venture into the legislative arena by creating a pre-condition which would adversely affect the right of the candidates to participate in polls.
"The intention of the Lordships is laudable. But the question is whether the court can do it. The answer is 'no'," Attorney General K K Venugopal, representing the Centre, told the bench, which also comprised Justices R F Nariman, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Indu Malhotra.
Moreover, referring to the concept of presumption of innocence until a person is proven guilty, Venugopal said depriving a person from contesting elections on a party ticket would amount to denial of the right to vote, which also included the right to contest.
He referred to various judgments and said the expression of criminal antecedent was "extremely vague". Moreover he added that the, "presumption of innocence is central to our criminal jurisprudence. A person is innocent until proven guilty."
Taking an opposite view from the Centre, the Election Commission urged the court to intervene to ensure that elections are decriminalized.
Senior advocate Meenakshi Arora, appearing for the poll panel, referred to the recommendations made by the Election Commission and the Law Commission way back in 1997 and 1998 for decriminalizing politics, but no action was taken by the government on them.
She exhorted the court to issue the direction in the matter besides asking Parliament to make the suitable law.