KUALA LUMPUR – The High Court here today ruled that the one-day Parliament sitting on May 18 was valid and in accordance with the law, even though it was unusual and unprecedented, to avoid the spread of COVID-19.
Judge Datuk Ahmad Kamal Md Shahid made the ruling after dismissing an originating summons filed by lawyer R. Kengadharan, and a social activist, D. Arumugam, against Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and former Dewan Rakyat Speaker Tan Sri Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof, for a declaration that the one-day Parliament sitting was unconstitutional.
“I have no doubt the one-day sitting is unusual and unprecedented, but to me it is not something illegal, but legal in the face of the law,” he said.
The judge said the two letters from the Leader of the House, who is the Prime Minister, dated April 17 and May 12, which stated May 18 as the only day for the Parliament sitting and that it was only to hear the Royal address by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong on the danger of the COVID-19 pandemic were fair and reasonable.
He said the government’s to have a one day sitting was reasonable and valid as the government had every right to protect the lives of the members of the House from the risk of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kengadharan and Arumugam filed the suit on May 15, naming Muhyiddin and Mohamad Ariff as the first and second defendant, respectively, for a declaration that the May 18 Parliament sitting was null and void as it only heard the Yang di-Pertuan Agong’s speech and therefore contravened Article 55 (1) of the Federal Constitution.
They claimed the first sitting was illusory as there was no other important events that took place as stated under the Standing Order 14 of the Dewan Rakyat.
Dewan Rakyat secretary Nizam Mydin Bacha Mydin, in his affidavit filed on behalf of Muhyiddin and Mohamad Ariff, said the May 18 Parliament sitting was in accordance with the Federal Constitution and the Dewan Rakyat Standing Order.
He said the application by Kengadharan, and Arumugam has no merit as the validity of any Dewan Rakyat proceedings cannot be challenged in any court as stipulated under Article 63 (1) of the Federal Constitution.
On May 13, Mohamad Ariff, in a statement said he had received a notification letter signed by Prime Minister as the Ketua Majlis stating that the government has decided that the agenda for the First Meeting of the Third Session of the 14th Parliament, which will take place for one day, has been amended to focus only on the Royal Address.
He said this was due to the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic in the country was not over yet.
Justice Ahmad Kamal, in his 16-page judgment, said the court also found that the Leader of the House, being the Prime Minister of the country, must have taken all relevant considerations, for example expert reports, relevant documents and information and also the current status of the pandemic that have been presented to him by the relevant government agencies and experts especially health experts, before issuing the two letters to the Dewan Rakyat secretary.
He said the court was not agreeable with the contention by the plaintiffs that the one day sitting due to the COVID-19 pandemic was merely a fig leaf.
“The plaintiffs submitted that the legislature in the United Kingdom, Singapore and Canada have convened to pass legislation necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I am of the opinion that each country in the world is facing its own unique circumstances and challenges when dealing with the pandemic, and thus, each government has its own practices, strategies and solutions in dealing with these unprecedented circumstances.
“I am also of the considered view that the one day sitting does not violate the doctrine of the separation of powers or preventing the Parliament from carrying out its exclusive constitutional duties,” the judge said.
The judge further said that the reason or justification given by the government, namely the COVID-19 pandemic, was reasonable to avoid the risk of spreading COVID-19 and to avoid creating another cluster.
“To me, as long as the government has given a reasonable justification and explanation as to why the one sitting is being held, this court will not interfere with the reasons or findings of the government,” he added.
Justice Ahmad Kamal said the one day sitting of the Dewan Rakyat also met the criteria in Article 55(1) of the Federal Constitution, which states that the Parliament shall reconvene not more than six months from the last sitting.
“In this present case, the Parliament did reconvene within six months from the last sitting, for example on Dec 19, last year. I am also of the view that is is within the constitutional rights of the government to meet even for a day as long as it is within six months of the last sitting,” he added.
Ahmad Kamal stated that based on the Standing Order 11(2) of the Dewan Rakyat, it is the responsibility of the Leader of the House who is the Prime Minister to determine the sitting dates of the Parliament and to vary it from time to time the dates so fixed.
He said that the business of fixing dates and determining the Order of Business are part and parcel of the proceedings of the Dewan Rakyat and therefore the business of Parliament is immune from judicial interference.
“I am also of the view that even if the one day sitting is not in accordance with the Standing Orders, it will not amount to a non-abiding with the Orders of Business, nor can it be declared invalid for violating the constitution,” the judge said, adding that the plaintiffs’s application for a declaration has no merit in law.
As such, he dismissed the application.
Meanwhile, Kengadharan and Arumugam, represented by lawyer Datuk Bastian Vendargon, when met outside the court said they would file an appeal against the decision.
Senior federal counsel Suzana Atan and S. Narkunavathy acted for the defendants.