MPs have absolute immunity in Parliament, committee hears

2016-09-14 21:10
The National Assembly. (Paul Herman, News24)

The National Assembly. (Paul Herman, News24)

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Cape Town - Parliament's ad hoc committee on powers and privileges has heard it is unconstitutional to remove an MP from the precinct for anything they have said in the House.

The committee met on Wednesday to discuss the implications of the Constitutional Court's March ruling that it was unconstitutional for police to forcibly remove MPs while they are in chambers.

Section 11 of the Powers Privileges and Immunities of Parliament and Provincial Legislature Act (PPIPPLA) needed to redefine the word "person" to exclude MPs in order for the Act to remain constitutional, legal representative Daksha Kassan told the committee.

"The Constitution supersedes the Act," she said.

"The ConCourt's majority ruling made it clear that MPs' right to freedom of speech can only be regulated in Parliament's rules and orders, but cannot be legislated in an Act."

Forcibly removing or threatening MPs with arrest amounted to a "chilling effect" on robust debate in the House, she said, referencing the judgment.

However, MPs could be asked to leave the House if their actions are deemed as contributing to a "disturbance".

Democratic Alliance MP Natasha Mazzone also said the committee needs to unpack what the guarantee of "absolute immunity" for MPs meant in the Act.

"It will help us understand the extent of MPs' protection when they are speaking in the House."

Committee chairperson Mathole Motshekga wanted to know if an MP's removal from the House meant they must vacate the entire precinct.

Kassan said that technically the Speaker had authority over the entire precinct, including courtyards and gardens, but that simply leaving the House was sufficient in most cases.

Read more on:    parliament 2016

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