Freedom Of Speech In Parliament

This is an edited version of Nemani Delaibatiki’s My Say for FBC TV’s 4 The Record programme last night.   When a member of Parliament stands up on the floor
27 Mar 2017 10:22
Freedom Of Speech In Parliament
Fiji Parliament

This is an edited version of Nemani Delaibatiki’s My Say for FBC TV’s 4 The Record programme last night.  

When a member of Parliament stands up on the floor of the debating chamber and declares he or she can say whatever he wants even if it’s a lie, it is worrying.

The privilege of freedom of speech is regarded as the most important of all privileges. Its origins date from the British Bill of Rights of 1689. Article 9 of the Bill of Rights says:

That the freedom of speech and debates or proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament.

This meant that those taking part in proceedings in Parliament enjoyed absolute privilege.

We have inherited this practice. Members may not be sued if they make defamatory statements when taking part in debates in the House. But the privilege is wider than that and, for instance, protects Members from being prosecuted if in a debate they make a statement that would otherwise be a criminal offence.

But in our modern Parliament, absolute privilege does not mean you can say anything you want, even lies and get away with it. The Speaker, Dr Jiko Luveni has powers to ask an MP to withdraw a statement that she thinks does not uphold the ethical standards of Parliament.

If the statement is really serious it is referred to the privileges committee to decide a penalty.

The use of uncouth and derogatory words against the Speaker saw SOPELPA president Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu suspended from Parliament for two years.

Roko Tupou Draunidalo was also found to have breached the standards and suspended for two years when she was National Federation Party MP and president.

The Parliament of Fiji Handbook says that MPs have certain obligations or responsibilities that they must adhere to as public officials and key actors in the political system of Fiji.

Related to the right to freedom of speech, there are limits on this right that must be observed by an MP.

MPs cannot incite hatred among different communities or ethnic groups.

Language used in Parliament cannot be disrespectful, cause disharmony, or otherwise be un-parliamentary.

If such words are used they can result in the member losing speaking privileges, being disciplined and can even result in the suspension from Parliament as it happened to Ratu Naiqama and Ms Draunidalo.

In the case of Mr Nawaikula, he withdrew his statement after the Speaker asked him but as he sat down he repeated the same words

He had earlier made accusations in Parliament against a number of organizations which Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed–Khaiyum said were not true.

The Handbook says beyond legal obligations an MP has certain political and moral obligations to promote peace and resolve disputes without resorting to violence. Members must continue to seek solutions within the institution of Parliament and should always be pursuing consensus, whenever possible, between the various party caucuses and all MPs.

Where this is not possible, an MP must respect the right of the Government to govern and for all MPs to have the right to put their position on record.

Sometimes you get the impression that certain members of the Opposition do not respect the right of Government to govern.

Whether they do a good job or not every four years there is a national evaluation and assessment through the ballot box.

Next year is the year of evaluation and assessment.

If the FijiFirst  Government has made most of the people happy by delivering on their promises then they will be voted back in power. If not, then the outcome would be different.

This is what democracy is all about. The shenanigans that sometimes happen in Parliament lower the respect and dignity of the august House.

Mr Nawaikula can say anything he wants in Parliament as long as he does not  breach the parliamentary ethics and standards in the Standing Orders. Lies do not come under that definition. That’s why the Speaker intervened.

Like everything else in our democracy freedom comes with responsibility.



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