Legislators’ Immunity From Prosecution Is Not Absolute

…Speaker tells MPs

Speaker of Parliament, Rt. Hon. Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin, has bemoaned the abuse of privileges by Members of Parliament who carry their immunity from court summons too far, warning such abuses are illegal.

In a statement, he reminds that articles 117 and 118 of the constitution do not make room for MPs to escape summons when they are not doing anything in relation to Parliamentary work, saying a culture of evading summons among MPs because of these articles is not acceptable.

“…the fact that the immunity enjoyed by the Speaker, Members of Parliament, and Clerk to Parliament are not absolute anytime, anywhere, and any day. As such, when Parliament is not in session or a Member of Parliament is not on his way to, attending at or returning from the business of Parliament, such a member may be served a court process and may appear as a witness in a court proceeding,” the Speaker clarified.

“It follows therefore that while Parliament is not in session or the Speaker has not certified that a Member or Clerk to Parliament is attending to the business of Parliament, a Member of Parliament may not evade service of court process or refuse to appear as a court summoned witness in a court proceeding. Any such act would amount to a violation of Articles 117 and 118 of the Constitution and same would not be encouraged in this House. Let me emphasize again that Parliamentary proceedings include Parliamentary Committee meetings and activities.”

Article 117, he said grants immunity to specific functionaries of Parliament which only to be exercised when the functionary “is on his way to, attending at or returning from, any proceedings of Parliament.” 

Further, Article 118 (1) of the Constitution provides that “Neither the Speaker, nor a member of, nor the Clerk to, Parliament shall be compelled, while attending Parliament to appear as a witness in any court or place out of Parliament.” 

Clause (2) of article 118 provides, “The certificate of the Speaker that a member or the Clerk is attending the proceedings of Parliament is conclusive evidence of attendance at Parliament.

The Speaker said while the enforcement and application of the provisions in article 118 of the 1992 Constitution have largely been without incident, the enforcement and application of article 117 has been fraught with challenges.

He says his office is constantly flooded with requests for leeway to serve summons on MPs within the precincts of Parliament by people from the Judiciary and this led him to officially write and complain to the Chief Justice who in turn issued a circular prohibiting service of summons on Parliamentarians during legislative hours.

However, he said that Legislators must ensure they do not abuse the immunity privileged them.

“Hon. Members without a doubt the immunity from service of processes is necessary to prevent the use of such processes to impede the work of Parliament. This should, however, not be understood to mean that Hon. Members cannot be served at all with any processes from outside parliament.”

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