DAP MPs had strongly objected to the amendments to the Dewan Rakyat Standing Orders in August 1998, giving the Speaker the powers to reject “in chambers” any motion to adjourn Parliament under Standing Order 18 to debate a matter of urgent, definite public importance because such powers are open to abuse and a serious infringement of the rights and privileges of Members of Parliament who are treated like school-children in the performance of their parliamentary duties.
Now, the “evils” of such amendments to the Dewan Rakyat Standing Orders are becoming fully evident - to the extent that an MP is not even allowed to stand up in Parliament to move a motion to adjourn its proceedings to debate an urgent matter of definite public importance, which is allowed in all Commonwealth Parliaments and which Malaysian MPs could do for the first 40 years of the Malaysian Parliament until 1998.
Such amendments tantamount to subverting the very purpose of Standing Order 18 to allow Parliament to be seized of the latest developments of national concern, reducing Parliament into a national irrelevance and joke - and immediate steps must be taken to restore the original provisions of Standing Order 18 where the Speaker must act in the full democratic spirit of openly deciding on such motions and remove the powers of the Speaker to reject such motions in undemocratic and secretive circumstances “in chambers”.
The reason given by Muhamad for rejecting Mahfuz’s motion in chambers is most outlandish and outrageous - that it is “sub judice” to discuss the ISA crackdown against the Reformasi Seven because there are habeas corpus applications for the detainees in the courts. It is clear that Muhamad does not understand the habeas corpus rule in parliamentary proceedings.
Standing Order 36(2) reads: “Reference shall not be made to any matter which is sub judice in such a way as might in the opinion of the Chair prejudice the interests of parties thereto.”
Can Muhamad explain how a parliamentary debate on Mahfuz’s motion on the ISA arrests of the Reformasi Seven would “prejudice the interests of the parties thereto” as far as the habeas corpus applications are concerned?
Muhamad should realise that the habeas corpus rule is not a blanket ban on parliamentary debate or discussion on matters which await the adjudication of a court of law, or this would be an intolerable interference with parliamentary privileges and debate where one could remove a subject from parliamentary scrutiny by the easy expediency of instituting some form of legal action connected with the matter.
The sub judice rule in parliamentary proceedings is never absolute and always subject to the discretion of the Chair. It is an established parliamentary practice and convention in Commonwealth Parliaments that the sub judice rule does not preclude reference being made in questions, motions or debate to matters awaiting or under adjudication “in so far as such matters relate to a ministerial decision which cannot be challenged in court except on grounds of misdirection or bad faith, or concern issues of national importance such as the national economy, public order or the essentials of life”. (Erskine May - Parliamentary Practice 21st Edition).
Muhamad had acted arbitrarily in rejecting Mahfuz’s motion on the ISA arrests as he could not possibly present any case as to how such a parliamentary debate could “prejudice the interests of the parties” to the habeas corpus applications before the courts.
Muhamad’s rejection of Mahfuz’s motion has only made Parliament a joke, a laughing-stock and a national irrelevance.
Since the filing of the habeas corpus applications on Thursday, not a day passes without the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister or other Cabinet Ministers continuing to make most adverse comments about the ISA detainees, even adding on more outrageous and wild allegations.
Is the Attorney-General of the view that such wild, baseless and unsubstantiated allegations against the Reformasi Seven by the various government leaders after the filing of the habeas corpus applications last Thursday constitute “sub judice” in prejudicing the interests of the detainees and therefore an obstruction of the administration of justice - and if so, will the Attorney-General initiate contempt proceedings against the top government leaders or at least issue an admonition to tell them to stop making any adverse comments against the ISA detainees until the disposal of the habeas corpus writs?
Nobody expects the Attorney-General to do any such thing. What we have is then the most ridiculous situation where MPs would be committing sub judice if they seek to move a motion to urgently debate the ISA arrests, while outside Parliament the ISA arrests continue to be the subject of adverse comments by government leaders without anyone worrying about the sub judice rule.
Malaysians are entitled to ask as to how the Malaysian Parliament has today become such a joke, laughing stock and national irrelevance?
The Speaker, Tun Mohamad Zahir Ismail, should intervene to review Muhamad Abdullah’s arbitrary refusal “in chambers” of Mahfuz’s motion to have an urgent debate on the ISA crackdown on the spurious ground of “sub judice” so that Parliament does not become a joke and a national irrelevance. Mahfuz should be allowed to move his 18(1) motion to adjourn the House for an urgent debate on the ISA arrests when Parliament resumes its meeting tomorrow.