Court rules one-day Parliament sitting on May 18 constitutional

(FMT) – The High Court today ruled the one-day Parliament sitting on May 18 that saw only the Yang di-Pertuan Agong reading his royal address as constitutional, though unusual.

Judge Ahmad Kamal Md Shahid said Parliament might sit for any number of days as Article 55(1) of the Federal Constitution did not state the specific period the legislature must be convened.

That provision states that the Yang di-Pertuan Agong shall from time to time summon Parliament and shall not allow six months to lapse between the last sitting in one session and the date appointed for its first sitting in the next session.

The last Dewan Rakyat sitting before May 18 was on Dec 5 last year, while the Dewan Negara meeting was on Dec 19.

Kamal said that based on Article 55(1), the next session had to be held within six months from the last session (Dec 19), which was on or before June 18 this year.

“It is no doubt that the one-day sitting is unusual and unprecedented, but to me, it is not something illegal in the face of the law,” the judge said in dismissing a declaration sought by lawyer R Kengadharan and social activist D Arumugam.

He said Standing Order (SO) 11(2) also clearly spelt out the responsibilities of the leader of the house, who is also the prime minister, to determine the sitting dates of Parliament and to vary them from time to time.

Further, he said, SO 15(2) provided that the order of business for the sitting is determined by the prime minister.

He said the prime minister’s two letters, dated April 17 and May 12, to the Dewan Rakyat secretary, stating that the house would sit on May 18 due to the Covid-19 pandemic were fair and reasonable.

“The prime minister must have taken all relevant considerations and the current status of the pandemic before issuing the letters to the Dewan Rakyat secretary,” said Kamal.

He said the sitting was reasonable and valid as the government had every right to protect the lives of the members of the house and avoid creating a Covid-19 infection cluster and spreading the virus.

“I am not agreeable with the contention of the plaintiffs that the one-day sitting based on the pandemic is merely a fig leaf,” he added.

Kamal said each country and government in the world had its own practices, strategies and solutions in dealing with these unprecedented circumstances.

“I am also not able to agree with the submission made by the counsel for the plaintiffs that the sitting undermined the principles of parliamentary accountability,” he said.

He said the sitting also did not violate the doctrine of separation of powers or prevent Parliament from carrying out its exclusive constitutional duties.

The matters complained about were well within the purview of Article 63, he said.

“I find the business of fixing dates and determining the order of business is part and parcel of the proceedings of the Dewan Rakyat and, therefore, Parliament is immune from judicial interference,” he added.

Kengadharan and Arumugam filed the suit on May 15, saying the notice issued to MPs on May 13 was against the Constitution and standing orders of the house.

Naming Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and then Dewan Rakyat Speaker Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof as defendants, they wanted a declaration that the sitting was invalid.

Their lawyer, Bastian Pius Vendargon, said the reliance of SOs 11(2) and 15(2) by Muhyiddin undermined the constitutional principle of parliamentary accountability, as enshrined in Article 43(3).

The lawyer, who is assisted by T Gunaseelan, Gene Anand Vendargon and Keshvinjeet Singh, said the court had the inherent power to inquire into Kengadharan and Arumugam’s complaint.

Senior federal counsel Suzana Atan said the one-day sitting was held to confront the Covid-19 pandemic and because the nation had been locked down.

She had submitted that the plaintiffs’ application for a declaration had no merit as Article 63(1) of the Constitution states that the validity of proceedings cannot be challenged in court.