In a significant development, the Supreme Court, on Monday, October 9, 2023, stayed the recent order of the Kerala High Court passed on October 3rd. This order had refused to suspend the conviction of former Lakshadweep Member of Parliament (MP), Mohammed Faizal, a member of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). The case revolves around an attempt to murder charges against Faizal.
Supreme Court Reinstates Suspension of Conviction for Lakshadweep MP
A bench comprising Justice Hrishikesh Roy and Justice Sanjay Karol not only stayed the High Court’s decision but also ordered that the Supreme Court’s previous judgment, dated August 22, 2023, should be implemented. This earlier judgment allowed Faizal to continue serving as an MP representing Lakshadweep while the case was being sent back to the High Court for reconsideration. Additionally, the Supreme Court issued a notice, returnable in four weeks, in response to Faizal’s plea.
Court Directive Enforces Suspension of Conviction
The Supreme Court, through its directive, effectively enforced the suspension of Faizal’s conviction, ensuring that he could maintain his position as a Member of Parliament representing Lakshadweep. This decision stands in contrast to the High Court’s ruling, which had disqualified him from Parliament following his conviction.
Strong Opposition to Interim Order
However, it’s worth noting that Additional Solicitor General KM Natraj strongly opposed the grant of this interim order, underscoring the complexity and controversy surrounding this case.
Sibal’s Argument: FIR Modification and Changing Circumstances
Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, representing Mohammed Faizal, argued a crucial point in his client’s defense. He contended that the initial FIR did not mention any weapon in Faizal’spossession. The FIR was later amended to include an iron rod as the murder weapon, and this change occurred years after Faizalhad been elected as an MP.
Political Dispute: Congress vs. NCP
Sibal emphasized that this case had taken on political dimensions. He asserted, “The whole story changes years later after he becomes an MP. I argued this matter before the High Court, but it was not considered. This is a fight between Congress and NCP. All witnesses are Congress workers. The sessions judge found that there are no independent witnesses… They first came and attacked me, and they have been convicted…”
State Parliamentary Representation at Stake
Another significant point presented by Sibal was the need for continued parliamentary representation. Faizal, elected as an MP in 2014 and 2019, faced potential disqualification at a time when his constituents relied on him for their representation. His term was set to expire in May 2024.
Court’s Assessment of the Situation
The Court took into account the political rivalry between the accused and the victim’s parties, which had culminated in an attack and subsequent conviction. It considered these factors while staying the High Court’s order.
Faizal’s Disqualification and Subsequent Legal Proceedings
After the Kerala High Court’s verdict on October 3, 2023, Faizalwas disqualified from Parliament. The Lok Sabha Secretariat issued a bulletin stating that he stood disqualified from his membership from the date of his conviction, which was January 11, 2023.
Criminal Charges and Conviction
Faizal and three others had been convicted and sentenced to ten years in prison on January 11, 2023. Their convictions were related to charges under sections 143, 147, 148, 448, 427, 324, 342, 307, and 506 of the Indian Penal Code. These charges stemmed from an incident during the 2009 Lok Sabha polls when they attempted to kill Mohammed Salih, the son-in-law of former Union Minister P M Sayeed.
High Court Suspension and Supreme Court Remand
Initially, on January 25, the Kerala High Court had suspended Faizal’s conviction and sentence. However, this suspension order faced challenges from the Union Territory of Lakshadweep and the complainant, prompting an appeal to the Supreme Court.
Supreme Court’s Remand to High Court
On August 22, 2023, the Supreme Court remanded the matter back to the High Court, instructing them to reconsider the suspension of conviction within six weeks. The Supreme Court had expressed dissatisfaction with the High Court’s approach, particularly its consideration of the costs associated with a potential by-election if the conviction were not suspended.
High Court’s Concerns about Criminalization of Elections
However, on October 3, 2023, Justice N Nagaresh of the Kerala High Court, during a fresh hearing of the case, declined to suspend Faizal’s conviction. The High Court expressed deep concern about the criminalization of the election process and criminal acts occurring during legislative body meetings. It emphasized that allowing individuals with criminal backgrounds to remain part of the democratic system could send wrong signals to the public, highlighting the gravity of the issue.