Court differs from Perak decision as Gobind remains barred

By Shazwan Mustafa Kamal (Malaysian Insider)
KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 22 — Puchong MP Gobind Singh Deo (picture) remains barred from the Dewan Rakyat after the High Court ruled today that legislative proceedings cannot be challenged in court, in a decision which appears to go against an earlier Federal Court ruling.
The decision by the High Court today relies on a generally accepted principle of Separation of Powers but contradicts a Federal Court ruling in April which said it was allowed to inquire into legislative proceedings.

The Court ruled today that the constitution was supreme and that it cannot question proceedings of the Dewan Rakyat.
But in April, the Federal Court panel of Augustine Paul, Alauddin Mohd Sheriff, Arifin Zakaria, Nik Hashim Nik Ab. Rahman, and Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin was willing to depart from this precedent, which gives respect to the doctrine of separation of powers in a case between ousted Perak Speaker V Sivakumar and Barisan Nasional assemblymen in Perak.
In that case the Federal Court ruled  Sivakumar did not have the power to suspend Datuk Zambry Abd Kadir, the mentri besar, and six BN executive council members from attending the state assembly.
The ruling cleared the way for the seven men to attend the state assembly and head off attempts to mount a no-confidence vote against the Perak BN government.
With that decision the Federal Court appeared to have punctured the hallowed doctrine of separation of powers upheld by court decisions on five previous occasions.
In the previous decisions, the court had followed provisions in the constitution which says the courts cannot interfere in proceedings of the legislative assembly.
In the case of Gobind today, the High Court appeared to be returning to that doctrine.
In his decision earlier, Judicial Commissioner Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof took pains to point out that Gobind’s case was different from the Perak case because nobody was questioning the “validity” of the committee that suspended Gobind, unlike the committee chaired by Sivakumar.
He also noted that there were clear provisions in law for the Dewan Rakyat committee to decide if Gobind’s act was an offence that could be categorised as “contempt of the house”.
For those reasons, he said, the court was not reviewing Gobind’s 12-month suspension.
But the novice judge also pointed out that the courts exist to provide “check-and-balances” to the arbitrary decisions made in Parliament, which were not backed up by clear provisions in law.
Mohamad Ariff ruled that the first-term MP cannot take part in the lower house proceedings until March 18 next year, but is entitled to his monthly salary and other monetary benefits as clearly stated in Article 64 of the Federal Constitution.
He noted that under the law, Gobind could only be fined a maximum of RM1,000 for breaking the rules in Parliament, and be arrested if he does not pay the fine.
The judicial commissioner also ruled that an interest rate at eight per cent a year to be added to Gobind’s pay and be backdated to March, when Dewan Rakyat Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia passed the motion to suspend the fiery man for contempt.
Gobind’s lawyer and father, Karpal Singh, said it was a fair ruling and they would not be appealing.
“It’s a fair decision. The judge has done a lot of work.
“While what Gobind had said was tantamount to contempt, they had no right to take away benefits,” the veteran lawyer said.
Karpal, who is also DAP chairman highlighted that today’s decision held “far reaching consequences” for Parliament Speakers from now on.
“A landmark decision has been reached where the decisions of Parliament are now subject to judicial review.
“Parliament must be careful of decisions it adopts. It can’t do as it likes anymore,” he told reporters outside the courtroom.
“This judgment shows that the Speaker’s decision can be questioned in a court of law,” he added.
Karpal, who is also Bukit Gelugor MP, joked that Pandikar and Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz, as minister in charge of parliamentary affairs, should get a copy of the written judgment when it is completed.
“Parliament is not absolute,” he stressed, and ended: “it goes against what they believed all along.”
Gobind, who is also a lawyer, said that he was satisfied with the ruling, but moaned about not being able to take part in the upcoming Budget 2010 debate.
“The suit was filed as a matter of principle,” he said.
“I was hoping to get back to Parliament, but at the same time I am relieved that the judge did say that I am still the MP for Puchong,” he added.