HP HC Rules Against Constitutional Court's Power to Set Timeframe for Speaker on MLA Resignations

HP HC Rules Against Constitutional Court's Power to Set Timeframe for Speaker on MLA Resignations

Recently, the Himachal Pradesh High Court ruled that a Constitutional Court does not have the authority to establish a deadline for the Speaker of a State legislative assembly to decide on the resignation of its members.

Justice Sandeep Sharma resolved the legal issue following a disagreement between Chief Justice MS Ramachandra Rao and Justice Jyotsna Rewal Dua regarding whether the Court has the jurisdiction to impose a deadline for the Speaker's decision.

The single judge clarified that when the speaker makes decisions regarding resignations, they function in the capacity of an officer of the State legislature.

“In this capacity, the speaker is coequal to the constitutional court as a constitutional authority. In such like situations, constitutional courts respect the domain of other constitutional authorities as regards the roles specifically assigned to them under the constitution, which position has been already accepted by both the Hon’ble Judges while writing the separate judgment,” the Court said.

The judgment was rendered in the case of independent lawmakers Hoshiyar Singh, Ashish Sharma, and KL Thakur, who petitioned the Court seeking an order for the speaker to promptly accept the resignations they had submitted on March 22.

On May 8, the division bench comprising Chief Justice Rao and Justice Dua ruled that a court does not have the authority to compel the speaker to accept the resignation of an MLA. However, Chief Justice Rao's opinion allowed for the possibility of instructing the speaker to adjudicate on the authenticity of the resignations within a timeframe of two months.

Since Chief Justice Rao disagreed with the idea of setting a timeframe, the matter was subsequently referred to Justice Sharma for further consideration.Interestingly, the resignations of the MLAs had already been accepted, and they subsequently joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Nonetheless, the legal question remained unresolved and awaited consideration by the third judge.

Justice Sharma reviewed whether the High Court, under Article 226, has the authority to establish a timeframe for the speaker's decision. He concluded that since the judges of the Division Bench had already determined that it was within the speaker's purview to assess the authenticity of the resignations, there was no justification for Justice Dua to impose a timeframe.

“This Court finds that when both the Hon’ble Judges were in agreement that relief, as sought for, cannot be granted, rather issue with regard to voluntariness or genuineness of the resignations can only be decided by the Speaker coupled with the fact that no prayer was ever made by the petitioners to direct the Speaker to decide their prayer for resignations in a time bound manner, there was no occasion for the Hon’ble Ms. Justice Dua, to fix timeframe, which was otherwise not permissible,” the Court said.

It was also clarified that the speaker has the authority to conduct an inquiry if there is reason to believe that the resignation submitted by a Member of the Legislative Assembly is not voluntary or genuine.

It was also determined that while the law does not specify a specific timeframe for the speaker to decide on resignations, the rules suggest that if a member personally submits a resignation letter to the speaker, affirming its voluntariness and genuineness without contradictory information or knowledge on the speaker's part, the speaker "may" accept the resignation promptly.

However, in the current instance, the Court observed that the independent MLAs had been accompanied by BJP leaders when they submitted their resignations. The Court added that if the independent MLAs had not been accompanied by BJP MLAs to the Speaker's office, they would have had a legitimate argument that their resignations should have been immediately accepted by the speaker.

It was also expressed that because the rules use the word "may" instead of "shall," the discretion to accept or reject a resignation letter remains with the speaker.

Senior Advocate Maninder Singh with advocates Anshul Bansal, Ajay Vaidya, Prabhas Bajaj, Shriyek Sharda and Rangasaran Mohan represented the petitioners.  

Senior Advocates Kapil Sibal and KS Banyal with advocates Rohit Sharma, Udya Singh Banyal, Aprajita Jamwal, Nikhil Purohit, Jatin Lalwani and Rishabh Parikh represented the speaker.

Senior Advocate Ankush Dass Sood and advocate Arjun Lal represented the Election Commission of India.

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