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Relationship Between Parliament and Judiciary

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  • Last Updated : 22 Mar, 2022

The Parliament, Executive, and the Judiciary are the three prime organs of the Indian Government. The Parliament heads the legislative branch of governance, it is in charge of formulating laws. The executive enforces the laws made by the legislature and the Judiciary is in charge of conflict resolution and it also acts as the guardian of the Constitution.

The Indian Constitution envisages a delicate principle of limited separation of powers and checks and balances between the three primary organs. Each organ exercises a check on the arbitrary exercise of power by the other organ. This has often had an impact on the relationship between the organs, especially the relationship between the Legislature and the Judiciary which has been evolving over the years with their due share of conflict and compromise. The policy of checks and balances has often led to tension between the two organs with each of them insisting to prove their points while ultimately agreeing to strike a compromise. We will look into the details of the relationship between the two organs as we proceed.

The Constitutional Relationship between the Legislature and Judiciary

The legislature and the Judiciary have been guaranteed rights and privileges by the Constitution to ensure their independence.

1. Parliamentary powers and Responsibilities.

  • The Parliament enacts laws, oversees the functioning of the executive, and acts as the voice of the citizens of the country.
  • The Parliament is also empowered to make laws for the judiciary, it can determine the organization, jurisdiction, terms of service of the judges. A judge can also be removed by the Parliament on grounds of proven misbehavior and incapacity.
  • The members of the Parliament also enjoy immunity from judicial proceedings for anything they say or vote on the floor of the House.
  • Parliamentary procedures are beyond the scope of scrutiny of the judiciary.
  • No Member of Parliament or the presiding officer can be questioned by the judiciary for any steps taken by them to regulate the business of the House.

2. Judiciary’s Powers and Responsibilities.

  • The prime responsibility of the Judiciary is to settle disputes and deliver justice.
  • The Supreme Court is the guardian of the Indian Constitution, it has the authority to declare any law passed by the Legislature as null and void if it contravenes the provisions of the Constitution. This is the power of judicial review of the courts.
  • Another prime responsibility of the Supreme Court and High Court is to protect the citizens against the violation of Fundamental Rights by issuing writs. A law can be declared null and void if it violates fundamental rights. For example, Section 66A of the Information Technology Act 2000 was struck down as unconstitutional as it violated Article 19 (1)(a) of the Constitution that protects the freedom of speech and expression.
  • The judiciary can also declare a law invalid if the subject matter of the law is beyond the jurisdiction of the Parliament. (Example, if any central law is formulated regarding public health and sanitation, it can be declared as invalid by the courts as this is a subject of state list.)
  • The Judiciary has also been guaranteed judicial independence by the Constitution, to render it free from any pressure exercised by the legislature and executive to enable it to try and decide cases without any bias. For example, the conduct of the Supreme Court and High Court judges cannot be discussed in Parliament unless it is for the removal of the judge. The conditions of service of the judges cannot be altered to their disadvantage during their time of service. A High Court judge can only be removed by the Parliament on grounds of proven misbehavior or incapacity. These conditions ensure that the judges can do their duties effectively without any interference.

Key Areas of the relationship between Parliament and Judiciary.

  • Limitations on Parliament’s powers to amend the Constitution: Initially the Parliament had the authority to amend every provision of the Constitution including the Fundamental Rights under Article 368 of the Constitution.

However, the Supreme Court through subsequent judgement in the Golak Nath vs State of Punjab case (1967) issued a verdict stating that the Parliament’s powers to amend the constitution are limited and Fundamental Rights cannot be taken away or abridged. This led to the development of a controversy between the Parliament and the Judiciary regarding the abolition of the Right to Property. During the periods 1967 and 1973, this controversy became very serious. This controversy between the two however was resolved by the verdict of the Kesavananda Bharati case where the Court ruled that the Parliament can amend the Constitution barring the ‘basic structure’, which stands beyond the power of amendment. The Court also ruled that the Right to property is not a part of the basic structure hence it can be amended by the Parliament. It also stated that it is the discretion of the judiciary to decide whether a particular matter falls in the category of the basic structure or not.  

This limitation on the amendment power of the legislature posed by the Judiciary defines the relationship of conflict and compromise between the two bodies.

  • Law-making power of the Judiciary: Law-making is a function of the Legislature, but even the Judiciary has time and again played a role in the framing of laws by issuing guidelines and directives under Article 32 and 142. In the Vishaka vs State of Rajasthan case, the Supreme Court gave guidelines on how sexual conduct at the workplace could be addressed. In 2016 the Supreme Court also imposed a cess on the registration of diesel vehicles in Delhi.
  • Supervision over Executive by Parliament and Judiciary: The Parliament supervises and acts as a check against the arbitrary actions undertaken by the executive through the various motions at its disposal. The policies implemented by the executive are also analyzed by the Parliament to determine their intent towards the welfare of the citizens. The Judiciary also oversees the actions of the executive while deciding on the constitutionality and legality of executive actions. The Supreme Court can also give directions to executive agencies to initiate investigation against corrupt politicians and bureaucrats, for instance, the Hawala Case, the Narasimha Rao case, etc.
  • Judicial Review over Parliamentary Privileges and Proceedings: The members of the Parliament cannot be held liable for any action undertaken by them on the floor of the House in order to maintain the principle of separation of powers. However, in several decisions, the courts have asserted their power to exercise judicial review over parliamentary proceedings and privileges. For instance, according to the Supreme Court when a speaker disqualifies a member of the Parliament for defection, that can be subject to judicial review as the Speaker is exercising a judicial function.

The legislature and the judiciary share a relationship based on a delicate separation of powers. They have had an evolving relationship of conflict and subsequent compromise over the years, both the organs work towards the development of the interests of the citizens of the country. They are the protector and the voice of the nation, the conflicts between the two have however strengthened the democracy and given a new interpretation to the constitution of India.

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