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Speaker should be aware that parliamentary speech is protected by parliamentary privilege

The Speaker of the Dewan Rakyat should clarify his comments published on 27 October 2016, when he was quoted in the media as alleging that former government ministers who “….disclose government secrets and information including in the Dewan Rakyat are deemed to have violated the secrecy and ethics oath and legal action may be taken against them.”

As the Speaker of the House, he must surely be aware that the parliamentary words of MPs are protected by parliamentary privilege.

The Parliament of the United Kingdom defines parliamentary privilege as “…certain legal immunities for allow them to perform their duties without interference from outside of the House. Parliamentary privilege includes freedom of speech.”

In Malaysia, this particular aspect of parliamentary privilege is provided for via Article 63 of the Federal Constitution.

Article 63(2) states that: “No person shall be liable to any proceedings in any court in respect of anything said or any vote given by him when taking part in any proceedings of either House of Parliament or any committee thereof.”

There are of course exceptions to this.

Article 63(4) states that: “Clause (2) shall not apply to any person charged with an offence under the law passed by Parliament under Clause (4) of Article 10 or with an offence under the Sedition Act 1948 [Act 15] as amended by the Emergency (Essential Powers) Ordinance No. 45, 1970 [P.U. (A) 282/1970].”

A reasonable person would arguably not find that anything that the former Ministers in question had uttered in Parliament recently was in any way seditious.

Indeed, it would appear that the only other possibility for recourse against them is if they had committed an act of contempt against the House, such as by misleading it with their words.

The onus, logically, is on the honorable Speaker—as the chief guardian of the House’s august reputation—to prove that they had done this.

Elected legislators are ultimately responsible to their constituents and the nation’s interest, rather than outmoded notions of secrecy.

The integrity of the house is very much aligned to the integrity that we hold as a nation. Therefore the honorable Speaker should seek to uphold the nation’s interest above all others and allow legislators, no matter who they are, to bring forth pertinent national issues to the fore instead of protecting what little dignity the Government has left.

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