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Meet Advocate Lily Thomas, Whose Petition Stopped Convicted Criminals From Being MLAs and MPs

  • IWB Post
  •  April 25, 2019

In 1919, the Southborough Committee on Franchise, set up by British colonial government to design a system of electoral representation for the Dominion of India, called upon Dr. BR Ambedkar for his views on the matter. Amongst all the essential criteria for citizenship in India listed by Ambedkar, there was one particular criterion which he emphasized on above everything else where he said, “The right of representation and the right to hold office under the State are the two most important rights that make up citizenship.”

However, time and again some criminal politicians have abused this fundamental facet of citizenship and Lily Thomas, a Supreme Court advocate from Kottayam, decided not to let this happen anymore. Tired of watching convicted politicians getting multiple stays from the courts on appeals against their convictions, contesting elections, and eventually winning them, Thomas filed a petition in the Supreme Court alongside Lucknow-based no profit Lok Prahari, to strike down Section 8(4) of the Representation of People Act, 1952.

This was done so that legislators who were convicted of a crime which entails a prison term of two or more years would no longer be able to contest elections.

In her petition, Thomas sought the Supreme Court’s intervention to declare Section 8(4) of the Representation of People Act, 1951, as unconstitutional, which the court eventually upheld. The petition was rejected at the first attempt, but eventually, in July 2013, a Supreme Court bench comprising of Justices AK Patnaik and SJ Mukhopadhaya, passed a verdict. The judgment stated that MPs and MLAs would be immediately disqualified if they were convicted in a criminal case by a trial court.

Lily Thomas, the first women advocate of India, is a nonagenarian who has retired as a Supreme Court lawyer but continues to consult.

A native of Kottayam, Thomas grew up in Trivandrum before she shifted to Madras (Chennai), where she enrolled in the bar in the Madras High Court in 1955. Two years later, she enrolled in the LLM course offered by Madras University and became the first woman at the varsity to graduate from the course. After its completion, she joined the Supreme Court as an advocate, and she was one of only four women practising in the courts then.

Thomas filed her first major case in 1964 where she challenged the validity of the Advocate on Record (AOR) exam against the wishes of the Centre. In regards to it, The Economic Times wrote, “Thomas has been filing petitions since 1964 on a variety of issues—from questioning the validity of government exams and sorting out issues of railway employees to one in which the Supreme Court came down heavily on conversion to Islam for the express purpose of entering into a second marriage [led to an amendment in the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955]. Her hero is her father, also an advocate, who fought all his life to demolish a church meant only for Dalits.”

H/T: The Better India 

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