Hafiz Ahsaan Ahmad Khokhar
Parliamentary privilege is a legal immunity enjoyed by members of certain legislatures, in which legislators are granted protection against civil or criminal liability for actions done or statements made in the course of their legislative duties. The parliamentary privilege, or immunity, is a great advantage for the freedom of parliamentary debates and proceedings from the question and impeachment in the courts. The best known effect of this privilege is that the members of Parliament cannot be sued or prosecuted for anything they say in debate in the Houses.
Article 66 of Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan deals with the privileges of parliamentarians and states that there shall be freedom of speech in Parliament that neither any member shall be liable to any proceedings in any court in respect of anything said or any vote given by him in Parliament and nor shall be so liable in respect of the publication by or under the authority of Parliament of any report, paper, votes or proceedings. However, as per Article 68 of the Constitution, casts legal restriction as well that no discussion shall take place in Parliament with respect to the conduct of any Judge of the Supreme Court or of a High Court in the discharge of his duties.
Article 69 of the Constitution prescribes that the validity of any proceedings in Parliament shall not be called in question on the ground of any irregularity of procedure, and no officer or member of Parliament in whom powers are vested by or under the Constitution for regulating procedure or the conduct of business, or for maintaining order in Parliament shall be subject to the jurisdiction of any court in respect of the exercise by him of those powers, but this is as well not unbridled privilege of the Speaker or Deputy Speaker to pass any Ruling.
Supreme Court of Pakistan has recently held in a judgment issued in Suo Moto case No of 2022 while legally analyzing the Ruling of Deputy Speaker of National Assembly issued by him with reference to the immunity of Assembly proceedings under Article 69 of the Constitution during the process of vote of no confidence against the then Prime Minister, clearly hold that the protection afforded to proceedings in Parliament through Article 69(1) of Constitution is not absolute and would give cover only to the procedure specified in the Assembly Rules that regulates the business of a Assembly/House and finally declared illegal and against the Constitution. The Supreme Court also held in another recent judgment issued in Constitution Petition No 22/20022 within short span of time to the first referred above declared the Ruling of Deputy Speaker, Punjab Assembly to be void and of no legal effect. Resultantly, consequent to Supreme Court proceedings, in the first case, the National Assembly was restored and the new government came into power, and in the second case, the new Chief Minister was declared successful and the previous government regained power in Punjab.
The ratio of Supreme Court judgment after considering the language and meaning in both cases with reference to Article 69 of the Constitution that the Speaker or Deputy Speaker of Assembly is not legally authorized to issue a such Ruling on issue relating to the interpretation and enforcement of the provision of the Constitution, and that if it would involved in violation of fundamental rights and would infringe the provisions of the Constitution, the same would no longer be protected under the Constitution. The judgments of Supreme Court in recent cases have provided a window to judicially review power over the Assembly proceedings for such acts which would violate the substantive provisions of the Constitution.
All it legally means is that now under the Constitution that there is no blanket immunity available to the parliamentarians under Article 66 of the Constitution and of the proceedings of Assemblies under Article 69 of the Constitution if it would violate the substantive provisions and procedure of the Constitution.