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Par panel reports have persuasive value, not binding: Pharma cos to SC

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The issue whether a parliamentary panel report can be relied upon in judicial proceedings arose over alleged trials of the controversial HPV vaccine by some pharma companies

The report of a parliamentary standing committee has ‘persuasive’ value but it is neither binding, nor can it be used to prove disputed facts, some pharma companies told the Supreme Court today.

The submission was made before a five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, which is to decide questions including whether the court can rely on or refer to parliamentary committee reports in judicial proceedings.

The issue whether a parliamentary panel report can be relied upon in judicial proceedings had arisen after the petitioners had referred to the 81st Report of Parliamentary Standing Committee, issued on December 22, 2014, allegedly indicting some pharma firms for conducting trials of the controversial Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine.

“The report of a standing committee of Parliament has persuasive value and it is advisory in nature,” senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for some pharma companies, told the bench, which also comprised Justices AK Sikri, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan.

He said the report of a parliamentary panel was not binding on Parliament and the court and hence cannot be relied upon to prove disputed facts.

Senior advocate Anand Grover, appearing for one of the petitioners who is opposing controversial HPV vaccine, said he was not relying on the parliamentary panel report but had rather referred to it.

Earlier, the Centre, in its affidavit, had said the reports of parliamentary panels should not be used as evidence in a court of law.

The case came up for hearing in the apex court in 2012 and centered around aspects relating to action taken by the Drugs Controller General India, DCG(I), and the Indian Council of Medical Research pertaining to the approval of HPV vaccine manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline Asia and MSD Pharmaceuticals for preventing cervical cancer in women.

The hearing remained inconclusive and would resume tomorrow.

While referring the matter to the five-judge bench on April 5, the top court had said it “might be crossing the boundary of federal structure” if it acted on the basis of a parliamentary committee report in a PIL.

It had said that it was of the ‘prima facie view’ that the Parliamentary Standing Committee report may not be tendered as a document to augment the stance on the factual score that a particular activity was unacceptable or erroneous.

The top court had then framed two questions — one, whether in a litigation filed before it either under Article 32 or Article 136 of the Constitution, the court can refer to and place reliance upon the report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee.

The second question framed for the constitution bench was “whether such a report can be looked at for the purpose of reference and, if so, can there be restrictions for the purpose of reference, regard being had to the concept of parliamentary privilege and the delicate balance between the constitutional institutions that Articles 105, 121 and 122 of the Constitution conceive”.

The court was hearing two PILs filed by activist Kalpna Mehta and Sama-Resource Group for Women and Health.

The issue of untimely death of some people and the grant of compensation to their families had arisen in the hearing in which the attention of the court was drawn to the Report of Parliamentary Standing Committee.

The Centre and state governments have maintained their stand that the vaccine was necessary and steps have been taken to avoid any kind of hazard.

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