Lawyers: One-Day Parliamentary Sitting Illegal

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The one-day parliamentary sitting tomorrow is arguably illegal, as Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin lacks reasonable justification to limit it to a single day, a lawyer said.

Constitutional lawyer Lim Wei Jiet said it would be reasonable to deduce that Muhyiddin was convening Parliament merely to comply with the technical requirements of Article 55 (1) and is attempting to prevent his government from facing a confidence vote.

Article 55 (1) concerns the summoning of Parliament by the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong and stipulates a six-month interval at the most between one sitting and the date for the first meeting of the next session.

The sitting tomorrow, the first for this year and a delayed one after February’s political turmoil that saw a change of government, is only to hear the royal address.

Initially, government matters on spending to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 were to be heard, but this was dropped in a new notice from the Dewan Rakyat secretariat last week.

Lim said there was little reason to justify a one-day sitting as the Covid-19 outbreak could not be used as an excuse as Parliament can make arrangements to accommodate social distancing or convene via teleconferencing.

“Legislatures across the world have managed to do so, as well as in Penang,” said Lim.

He also said a recent decision by the UK Supreme Court suggested that a one-day sitting could be illegal.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had advised the Queen to prorogue, or discontinue, a Parliament session and to reconvene just 17 days before the UK’s scheduled departure from the European Union.

“Many perceived this as an attempt by Johnson to avoid parliamentary scrutiny on the government’s Brexit plans in the final weeks leading up to Brexit. This decision was challenged in court,” said Lim.

The court found that Johnson’s prorogation was unlawful on grounds that the sovereignty of Parliament would be undermined if the executive could, through the use of the prerogative, prevent Parliament from exercising its legislative authority for as long as it pleased.

It ruled that a decision to prorogue Parliament would be unlawful if the prorogation has the effect of frustrating or preventing, without reasonable justification, the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions as a legislature and as the body responsible for the supervision of the executive.

Lim said based on the ruling, it could be argued that Muhyiddin’s one-day parliamentary sitting frustrates, without reasonable justification, the Dewan Rakyat’s ability to carry out its constitutional function.

“It also, more importantly, prevents a test of whether this government commands the confidence of the House,” Lim said.

A virtual Parliament had been mooted by opposition politicians to accommodate a longer sitting.

There is also argument between opposition MPs and a government minister on who should initiate the necessary amendments to the standing orders to enable an online sitting.

Meanwhile, constitutional lawyer Andrew Khoo said the standing orders do not give the prime minister the power to vary the date of the sitting, which was originally March 9, before the government changed hands.

“It is my argument that the proviso to paragraph (2) of Standing Order 11 of the standing orders of the Dewan Rakyat does not give the prime minister the power to vary the date of March 9,” Khoo said.

Standing Order 11 reads:

“(1) The first sitting of the House in each session shall be held in such place on such day and at such hour as the Seri Paduka Baginda Yang di-Pertuan Agong may by proclamation appoint.

“(2) Subject to the provisions of paragraph (1), the leader or deputy leader of the House shall determine at least 28 days before the commencement of each session, the dates on which the House shall meet in the session: Provided that the leader or deputy leader of the House may vary from time to time the dates so fixed.”

Khoo said that it is the king who fixes the start date, and the leader of the House (the prime minister) then decides the meeting dates for the sitting for the rest of the year.

“One can imagine that it is those subsequent dates that can be changed from time to time, for various reasons. But what is clear is that the leader of the House cannot change the first date, which is when Parliament is summoned to meet.”

Khoo also said that the leader of the House must determine the dates of the meetings for the rest of the year at least 28 days before the commencement of the first meeting.

However, Khoo added that the proclamation of the first meeting of Parliament was only published in the government gazette on May 6, even though the actual date of proclamation (by the king) was February 14.

“If the proclamation is only publicly published on May 6, how would the leader of the House know prior to its publication? This is, at the very least, a clear breach of form, if not of substance,” he said.

“The consequences must mean that there has been no valid summoning of Parliament to meet tomorrow.

“The only possibly valid summoning of Parliament was on March 9 but that date passed without Parliament being summoned.”

Khoo said the king can still issue a fresh proclamation, but it should not be after June 18, or it would violate Article 55 (1) of the federal constitution, which requires that a period no longer than six months is allowed to elapse between two sittings of Parliament.

The Dewan Rakyat last sat on December 19, 2019, making the last possible date for Parliament to sit again on June 18. – TMI