Privilege Issues and Impartiality State Council’s Speaker was Convicted in 1934
- Today most Legislators do not respect the traditions and conventions.
- Speaker must quit his party and remain detached from political apprehension even in retirement.
- The Speaker is supposed to uphold strict impartiality.
Speaker Karu Jayasuriya justifies his move in visiting Patali Champika Ranawaka MP, in remand prison. Speaker’s media unit issued a statement in this regard. Friday’s Daily Mirror reported that Speaker would not dispute the arrest of MP on a legal basis. The report says, “…he said the proper parliamentary tradition should be followed in doing so. He was responding to criticism that he never issued any statement when the MPs were arrested under the former government. The Speaker said he rushed to see MP Ranawaka in remand custody because the tradition was not followed in the arrest of him. Otherwise, he said he had not acted partially.”
Speaker is not a mere Chairman; he is the repository of the dignities, powers, rights and liberties of the representatives of the people, called MPs– and through them the voter. In addition to the standing orders, convention and practice powers the speaker’s authority.
Jayasuriya expressed his disappointment on disregard for parliamentary conventions. He said he would summon the IGP and senior police officials who were involved in the arrest of MP and educate them on the need to adhere to parliamentary conventions when arresting a lawmaker. [does it apply to a lawbreaker?]
Speaker made these remarks at the party leaders’ meeting held last week to decide on the agenda for January 3rd ceremonial opening of the House by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Jayasuriya was out of the island when the arrest was made. His deputy Ananda Kumarasiri said that he had been informed of the imminent arrest only after reaching the MP’s home. The Deputy Speaker reminded National Police Commission Chairman that traditionally if an MP is to be arrested, due process is followed in accordance with Parliamentary privileges. Deputy Speaker has pointed out that the letters sent to the Speaker and himself of the impending arrest, had only reached his office at 3:24 pm.
Traditions, Conventions, Precedents and Practices
Today most Legislators do not respect the traditions and conventions. Speaker’s traditional gear or attire – court dress; a black coat with white shirt and bands, beneath a black gown, with stockings and buckled shoes, and a full-bottomed wig eschew horsehair wig, breeches. Speakers when presiding wore the black silk lay-type gown with a train and a mourning rosette over the flap collar at the back, on normal sitting days. On Opening of Parliament, in the past, the Speaker wore a robe of black satin damask trimmed with gold lace and frogs with the full-bottomed wig and, also a tricorne hat. Tradition and convention like culture are processes; they change with times.
House of Commons—Dragging the Speaker!
The role of the Speaker has come under mounting scrutiny over the past few years – John Bercow has been criticised for stretching parliamentary rules and practices. He was also accused of not being impartial when it comes to Brexit.
He resigned with dignity. Labour MP and Deputy Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle were elected as the new Commons’ Speaker after John Bercow resigned in November. Winner, Sir Lindsay was ‘dragged’ to the chair by a few MPs [especially by the females—two dragged him while two female MPs pushed from behind, the 62-year-old nearly tripped coming down the steps ], a tradition hitherto practised in House of Commons-UK. [sounds silly] However, he pledged to be a “neutral” Speaker.
A tradition that should remain without any change is Speaker’s non-partisan attitude and renouncement of all political affiliations when taking the dignified office.
Speaker must quit his/her political party and remain detached from political apprehension even in retirement. He can only deal with their constituents’ problems like any normal MP.
The elected Representatives, the PMs, Ministers, Speakers, Deputies and MPs, if they become lawbreakers, they should not be ‘dragged’ but kicked out and arrested by law enforcement authorities after obtaining a legal warrant, and like in India a subsequent intimation could be made.
"Molamure represented all three Legislations ..beginning 1924, became the first Speaker of both the State Council and Parliament"
Sir Francis Molamure-our First Speaker was Convicted in 1934
Molamure who represented all three Legislatures [LG, SC and Parliament] beginning 1924, became the first Speaker of both the State Council  and Parliament . The controversial man who went missing in mid 1934s became famous [or infamous] for organising the Panamure Elephant Kraal, in the late 1940s.
Elected to the Legislative Council of Ceylon [LG-under Colebrook Commission] in 1924, from the Kegalle District, Molamure, the ‘Good Buddhist’ chaired the AGM of the All Ceylon Buddhist Association Congress. The first State Council was set up under the Donoughmore commission in 1931. Molamure was re-elected to the legislature from the Dedigama Electorate. When the State Council was ceremonially opened in July 1931, he contested the Speaker’s chair with Sir Stewart Schneider defeating the Britisher by a majority of 17 votes. However, three years later, he was convicted by a Court of Law in a breach of trust case filed by a private party for willful misappropriation of funds under him as its trustee. Serving a jail term he lost his Privileges and Membership of State Council. A rehabilitated man, Molamure, a prominent member of the Ceylon National Congress [CNC] contested the bye-election to Balangoda seat in 1943. Molamure, in 1947 was re-elected [from Balangoda at the general elections] to Parliament of Ceylon under Solburry Commission. At its first seating Molamure’s name, once again was proposed as the Speaker; he defeated H Sri Nissanka by the same number of votes , which post he held with honour and dignity being extremely impartial in carrying out his sacred duty. Molamure, who became the first Speaker of Parliament of Ceylon under Soulberry reforms held the post of the Speaker until his untimely death in 1951. He suffered a stroke while presiding at the speaker’s seat and was rushed to Central Hospital in an unconscious state where he passed away a day later on January 25, 1951. Indian Formula for the arrest of an MP
Freedom from the arrest of members in civil cases during the continuance of the session of the House and 40 days before its commencement and 40 days after its conclusion is a privilege [under section 135 A code of civil procedure]. Right of the house to receive immediate information of the arrest, detention, convention, imprisonment and release of a member [Rules 229 and 230] of the Rules of procedure and conducts of Business in Lok Sabha]. Arrest and service of legal process within the precincts of the house need the permission of speaker [rules 229 and 230 of the Rules of procedure ] However, no such immunity is present in case of criminal offences. It should be noted that no MLA/MP can be arrested in the chamber during the parliamentary proceedings, they can, however, get arrested outside the parliament in case of criminal offences.
"Speaker’s traditional gear or attire – court dress; a black coat with white shirt and bands, beneath a black gown, with stockings and buckled shoes, and a full-bottomed wig eschew horsehair wig, breeches"
The arrest of Neal de Alwis MP in 1962; Without a Warrant
Neal de Alwis, the honourable LSSP Member of Parliament representing Baddegama, in the Galle District, speaking in the House of Representatives on 23rd February stated, “….in the morning of January 28, police were sent to arrest me. There were about 25 policemen with rifles. The OIC Poddala Police Station said I had to make a statement. I thought my statement was in connection with trade union activities.”
The MP continuing said that the OIC explained the only reason for the arrest was instructions from his superior officer V E Perera, the Superintendent of Police, Galle.
“…The Inspectors called me aside and said that they had orders from the Superintendent of Police to bring me under detention orders. I told them that I was expecting this and that I had information that trade union leaders were to be arrested. ‘By arresting us how can the Government solve the problems?’ I got into the police jeep and was taken to the Galle Police Station... I found Superintendent of Police, V. E. Perera, his two assistants, ASPs Mahamood and Hofman waiting for me…, SP Perera said, ‘We are sorry, these are instructions.’ I said ‘quite in order…I’m not blaming you, people...”
- Hansard extract-23/02/62-col:2503/2504
The Speaker is supposed to uphold strict impartiality. The tradition had been that opposition political parties do not contest the former Speaker at the subsequent election so that he returns unopposed to Parliament. The Speaker, as a result, returns uncontested and continues in that office.
The good Parliamentary traditions are not appreciated by Parties in the current context of Sri Lanka. Unfortunately, such practices and conventions have disappeared, while ‘people’s representatives from both sides of the divide who cheat, steal and rob public property, and violate Laws of the land are being protected under the pretext of the so-called parliamentary privileges and conventions.