Court 'unconvinced' MPs will be unruly without Act

2015-05-12 14:14
(File, Rodger Bosch, AP, Pool)

(File, Rodger Bosch, AP, Pool)

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Cape Town - The argument that members will disrupt Parliament’s functions with impunity, without certain legislation governing their conduct, is “unconvincing”, the Western Cape High Court stated on Tuesday.

The DA had brought an application to the court questioning the right to remove or arrest parliamentary members who caused disturbances.

“Parliament has more than sufficient tools to maintain order in its precincts. It has the rules and the power to hold members in contempt,” the court found.

This was the finding of Judge Andre Le Grange and two others who declared that section 11 of the Powers and Privileges and Immunities of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Act was inconsistent with the Constitution and thus invalid.

The section allows "a person" to be arrested or removed from the precincts if they create or take part in any disturbance in the precinct while Parliament, a house, or committee is meeting.

Le Grange said two of the respondents, Speaker Baleka Mbete and NCOP chairperson Thandi Modise, could still invoke Section Four of the Act, which allowed security forces to enter the precinct and take action to prevent immediate danger to life or the safety of any person, or damage to any property.

Overbroad

At the heart of the Democratic Alliance's application was the contention that Section 11, properly interpreted, was only applicable to non-members of Parliament.

The full bench concurred, stating that the provision was overbroad and as a result, constitutionally flawed.

"In as much as Parliament is entitled to conduct its own affairs, the privilege of freedom of speech is vital to allow Parliament to perform its function of permitting unrestrained debate about matters of public importance," the judge said.

State of the Nation address

Mbete and Modise had invoked section 11 during President Jacob Zuma's State of the Nation Address on February 12, calling upon Parliamentary staff and security forces to forcefully remove members of the EFF from the joint sitting as a result of disturbances that were caused.

EFF members had risen on a point of privilege or point of order after being dissatisfied with the manner in which Mbete dealt with a question, about when Zuma was going to pay back money he was said to owe for his Nkandla homestead.

Le Grange suspended the full bench's order for a period of 12 months to allow Parliament to remedy the defect in the legislation.

He also referred the order to the Constitutional Court for confirmation and said the respondents were to pay the costs of two counsels.

The DA's executive federal chair, James Selfe, said outside the court he was very pleased with the ruling and that it would allow all members to speak "truth to power" and to fulfil their constitutional duty of holding the executive to account.

Read more on:    james selfe  |  thandi modise  |  jacob zuma  |  baleka mbete  |  cape town  |  state of the nation 2015  |  parliament 2015

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