One-day Parliament sitting unconstitutional, says lawyer

R Kengadharan (centre) with his counsel (from left) Gene Anand Vendargon, Bastian Pius Vendargon, T Gunaseelan and Keshvinjeet Singh.

KUALA LUMPUR: The one-day Dewan Rakyat sitting on May 18 which saw only the king reading his royal address was unconstitutional, a lawyer told the High Court here today.

Bastian Pius Vendargon said this was because the legislature was disabled from carrying out its three constitutional duties: legislating, controlling national expenditure and holding the Cabinet accountable.

Constitutionally, MPs in the Dewan Rakyat will debate the royal address in the same session which is also for the government to carry out its business.

The Dewan Rakyat only convened again on July 13 after a lapse of 56 days.

Vendargon said the proceedings were not only unconstitutional but also ultra vires and illegal.

“The proceedings were a mere illusion. The government was attempting to merely comply with the letter of the law but ignored the spirit of the Federal Constitution,” he said in his submission.

Plaintiffs R Kengadharan and D Arumugam are challenging the legality of the sitting, saying the notice issued to MPs on May 13 was against the constitution and Standing Orders (SOs) of the house.

Naming Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and then-Dewan Rakyat speaker Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof as defendants, they want a declaration that the meeting was invalid.

They also said it was public knowledge that the opposition intended to pass a motion of no confidence against the prime minister.

The proposal, put forth by former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, was accepted by the speaker on May 8.

However, Ariff later said the sitting would see only the royal address by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong on the agenda, adding that he was informed of the changes by Muhyiddin.

Vendargon said the reliance of SOs 11(2) and 15(2) by Muhyiddin as leader of the house undermined the constitutional principle of parliamentary accountability, as enshrined in Article 43(3).

“It also violates the doctrine of separation of powers, which is part of the basic structure of the constitution,” he added.

The lawyer said the proceeding was also ultra vires the constitution as the government had no power under SO 11(2) to vary the king’s proclamation to summon Parliament.

Parliament was initially scheduled to begin its first session for 15 days from March 8.

“The government has no power to truncate and restrict Parliament business to only the king’s address under SO 15(2),” Vendargon said.

The lawyer, who is assisted by T Gunaseelan, Gene Anand Vendargon and Keshvinjeet Singh, said the court had the inherent power to inquire into Kengadharan and Arumugam’s complaint.

“The government’s powers under SOs 11(2) and 15(2) are discretionary and have their limits, and the court can provide the remedy sought,” he said.

Senior federal counsel Suzana Atan said the one-day sitting was held to confront the Covid-19 pandemic and because the nation had been locked down.

She said Ariff had also filed an affidavit that the proceedings could not be questioned in any court.

“The planitiffs’ application for a declaration has no merit as Article 63(1) of the constitution states that the validity of proceedings cannot be challenged in court,” she said.

She added that Dewan Rakyat secretary Nizam Mydin Bacha Mydin, who affirmed an affidavit on behalf of Muhyiddin, had also said the single-day sitting was valid as it complied with the constitution and SO.

Judge Ahmad Kamal Md Shahid will deliver his ruling on Sept 3.