Parliamentary privilege: Anchor for strong house

BY: Benjamin Tachie Antiedu & Goodnuff Appiah Larbi
Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin - Speaker of Parliament
Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin - Speaker of Parliament

In both practice and law, Ghana’s Parliament forms the fulcrum around which the country’s nascent democracy revolves.

This reflects an observation by the Speaker of the 8th Parliament, Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin, that: “The Parliament of Ghana is considered the nerve centre of Ghana’s democracy.

Over the years, it has come to be recognised as the symbol of the nation’s hopes and aspirations and the fountainhead of policy and decision-making in the Republic.”

Parliament works towards meeting the hopes and aspirations of Ghanaians through the performance of its law-making, oversight, financial and budget approval, and deliberative functions.

These functions are performed by the House through the Members of Parliament (MPs) who constitute it.

For this reason, Parliament and its Committee members are accorded certain special rights called Parliamentary privileges to enable them to deliver the hopes and aspirations of the people.

One of such privileges is immunity from arrest and service of court processes which has attracted intense public debate following the attempt by the Ghana Police Service to arrest the Member for Madina, Mr Francis Xavier-Sosu, for alleged offences committed during a demonstration he led on Monday, October 25, 2021 against the deplorable state of roads in his constituency.

Definition, history

In Parliamentary parlance, the term Parliamentary privileges refer to special rights and immunities enjoyed by Parliament and its Committees and individual MPs.

Parliamentary privileges are said to have originated in the House of Commons in 1689 after the English Civil War to rid itself of interference or influence by the Monarch.

The first set of Parliamentary privileges were found in the Bill of Rights of 1689 as “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."

The nature and scope of Parliamentary privileges have expanded over the years and have been established as one of the key features of most developed Parliamentary democracies.

In Ghana, the 1992 Constitution grants a number of privileges to Parliament, its Committees and members including freedom of speech, debates and proceedings (Article 115 of the 1992 Constitution), immunity from proceedings for acts in Parliament (Article 116 of the 1992 Constitution), immunity from service of process and arrest (Article 117 of the 1992 Constitution), immunity from witness summons (Article 118 of the 1992 Constitution), immunity from service as Juror (Article 119 of the 1992 Constitution), and immunity from the publication of proceedings (Article 120 of the 1992 Constitution).

Enforcement

An individual or authority that disregards or flouts any Parliamentary privilege commits an offence termed breach of privilege, and will be liable to punishment by Parliament after the Committee of Privileges of the House establishes the guilt of the offender.

The punishments are prescribed in the Parliamentary Act, 1965 (Act 300) and they include a custodial sentence.

Justification

MPs are particularly accorded the special rights to enable them to perform their duties in Parliament without let or hindrance.

Parliamentary privileges also safeguard the freedom, authority and dignity of Parliament and members to facilitate the proper exercise of the functions entrusted to them.

Parliamentary privileges exist in varied formulations across most modern democracies, including Ghana.

These privileges are not intended to place members above the law.

Rather, they are designed to establish an anchor for a strong and independent Parliament that is insulated from interference from the Executive, empower members of Parliament to perform their duties without let or hindrance, promote checks and balances within the governance system, and enable the august House to deliver the hopes and aspirations of the people of Ghana.

The writers are a lawyer and author and a legal researcher, respectively, E-mails: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it./This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.