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MDC Alliance bid to stop Parly probe fails

by Staff reporter
12 Oct 2021 at 05:56hrs | Views
THE High Court has ruled that it cannot interfere with internal processes of Parliament dealing with alleged acts of misconduct by Members of Parliament and so cannot consider an application by 18 MDC-Alliance legislators seeking to block parliamentary investigation into their behaviour before President Mnangagwa.

 The 18 were accused of not acting in the national interest by not recognising President Mnangagwa after they on four occasions refused to rise to their feet which is considered mark of respect on the entry of the President into Parliament in tradition and practice. They then left the chamber before the State of the Nation Address was given.

 Justice Tawanda Chitapi dismissed the application by the 18 led by the party chief whip Mr Innocent Gonese on the grounds that it was bad at law. "Under the circumstances, this application had no legal merit and must be dismissed," he said. "Cost must follow the event. The application suffered from predictable procedural failures which must have been apparent to a discerning legal mind."

While the judge agreed that Parliament had full jurisdiction under the Privileges Immunities and Powers of Parliament Act, so the High Court could not interfere during the investigation, it could be asked to rule later on whether Parliament had followed correctly the procedures in the Act.

 Parliament set up a Privileges Committee to investigate the conduct of the 18 members of the National Assembly for declining to rise on the entry of the President and then boycotting proceedings, only returning to the chamber after the President had left. Speaker of Parliament Jacob Mudenda ruled that they be not allowed back into the chamber and that their allowances for the day be docked.   Following the setting up of the Privileges Committee, the errant MPs were invited to appear before the committee to enquire into their conduct.

 The MPs took the matter to court on an urgent basis to stop the hearings pending the finalisation of the main matter.  But Parliament through its legal counsel opposed the application and asked the court to observe the doctrine of separation of powers and not to interfere in the administration of Parliament.

 It was argued that Parliament had exclusive jurisdiction to deal its errant members under the Privileges Immunities and Powers of Parliament Act.

But in response to the objection raised by Parliament legal counsel, the opposition MPs lawyer argued that there was no law which provided for the ouster of the High Court to exercise its jurisdiction in the matter. The lawyer, Mr Alec Muchadehama argued that his clients were seeking declaratory orders which only the High Court could grant.

 However, under the Privileges Immunities and Powers of Parliament Act, the Parliament in terms of section 16 of the Act, has jurisdiction to deal with acts committed by its members of Parliament that constitute an offence in terms of the rules and law governing the administration of Parliament.

 The appointment of the Privileges Committee is provided for in the Act and the committee reports its findings to the Parliament which the makes the final determination on a matter dealt with by the committee.

Under such circumstance, Justice Chitapi said he was in agreement with Parliament legal counsel that it would be improper for the court to interfere in the exercise of the functions of the Parliament.

"Where an existing law is put in motion as in this case, the Privileges Immunities and Powers of Parliament Act, the court does not interfere with lawful processes carried out in terms thereof but can review whether the process were followed in terms of the enabling legislation," said Justice Chitapi.

 In the present case, the judge said, the MPs were expected to raise their objections in the first instances to the Privileges Committee and then to seek outside remedies thereafter. Justice Chitapi upheld the objections raised by Parliament to be valid.

Source - The Herald
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