Wednesday, May 20, 2009

What is “Contempt of the House”?

Contempt of House of Parliament or the Legislative Assembly is a serious offence. However, the definition of contempt is rather wide. In Erskine May Parliamentary Practice, 23 rd Edition, page 128, it is generally defined as follows:-

“…any act or omission which obstruct or impedes either House of Parliament in the performance of its function, or which obstructs or impedes any Member or officer of such House in the discharge of his duty, or which has a tendency, directly or indirectly, to produce such results, may be treated as a contempt even though there is no precedent of the offence.”
It is impossible to list down every act that might constitute a contempt. However, there are some broad principles drawn from the past cases that exemplify the definition of a contempt.

1. Any disorderly, contumacious or disrespectful conduct in the presence of either House or a committee will constitute a contempt, which may be committed by strangers, parties or witnesses. (ibid. page 128).

2. Disobedience to rules or orders of House of Parliament or of a committee. In particular, it is stated that “disobedience to the order of a committee made within its authority is a contempt of the House by which the committee was appointed. Individuals have been held to be in contempt who did not comply with orders for their attendance made by committees with the necessary powers to send for persons; as have those who have disobeyed or frustrated committee orders for the production of papers.” (ibid. page 131).

3. Any abuse of right of petition may be treated as a contempt (ibid. page 131).

4. Members deliberately mislead the House (ibid. page 132).

5. Act of corruption or impropriety (ibid. page 132).

6. Receiving fees by Members for professional services related to Proceeding in the House (ibid. 137).

7. Diminishing the respect due to the Members by words spoken or writings published reflecting on the character or proceeding of the House as such acts of abuse tends to obstruct the House in the performance of its function (ibid. page 138).

8. Publication of false of perverted reports of debates (ibid. page 139).

9. Premature publication or disclosure of committee proceedings (ibid. page 139)

10. Obstructing Members in the discharge of their duty by way of arrest, molestation, reflection and intimidation (ibid. page 143).

The list is not exhaustive. Nevertheless, it is sufficient for our reference in the present case in Selangor.

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