The Supreme Court, presided over by Justice Jones Dotse, yesterday ruled that the two deputy Speakers remain members of Parliament, when they are presiding over the business of the House. In view of that, they can vote and be counted as present for purposes of decision making in the House.
Stating the grounds for its decision, the Court insisted that Order 109 (3) of the Standing Orders of Parliament, which states that “a Deputy Speaker or any other member presiding shall not retain his original vote while presiding”, is unconstitutional.
The Court said the full reasons for its decision would be filed at its Registry by close of day on Friday March 11, 2022.
Justice Abdulai, a law lecturer at the University of Professional Studies (UPSA), had filed a case seeking a declaration that it was unconstitutional for the 1st Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Joseph Osei Owusu, to have counted himself for the purpose of making up the quorum of half of Members of Parliament required, by Article 104 (1), for Parliament to approve the 2022 Budget Statement and Economic Policy of Government on November 30, 2021.
The plaintiff, in his statement of claim, contended that “to the extent that the Deputy Speaker cannot be counted, the decision taken on 30 November 2021, to approve the 2022 Budget was a nullity”.
The plaintiff was additionally seeking a declaration that, “upon a true and proper interpretation of articles 102 and 104(1) of the 1992 Constitution, a Speaker or any other person presiding over Parliament cannot be said to be part of the members present for the purposes of decision making”.
He had also sought a declaration that upon a true and proper interpretation of articles 102 and 104(1), the First and Second Deputy Speakers, while presiding over Parliament, have the same authority as the Speaker of Parliament and can therefore not be counted as Members of Parliament present for the purposes of taking a decision in accordance with Article 104(1) of the 1992 Constitution.
In his response, the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Godfred Yeboah Dame, argued that a Deputy Speaker of Parliament or any member presiding over proceedings of the House, in the absence of the Speaker, is entitled to be counted for the purpose of making up the quorum of half of the Members of Parliament required by Article 104 (1) of the Constitution for the determination of matters in the House.
He further argued that a Deputy Speaker or any member presiding over proceedings in the House, in the absence of the Speaker, is entitled to cast a vote for the purpose of taking a decision in the House in accordance with Article 104(1) of the Constitution.
He described the view espoused by the plaintiff as suffering from a fundamental failure to distinguish between a “Speaker qua Speaker under the Constitution” and a “Member of Parliament who deputises for the Speaker” by virtue of Articles 96 and 101.
He further submitted that the plaintiff relied only upon “a very narrow, literal and absurd construction of Articles 96, 101, 102 and 104 of the Constitution and, thereby, failed to take account of the different kinds of quorums required for the different ‘businesses’ of Parliament.”
He concluded that in so far as decision making in Parliament is concerned, all Members of Parliament, including a Deputy Speaker when presiding, are entitled to vote.
“It is clear from Article 102 that, for the ordinary business of Parliament, there must be a quorum of only one-third of all the Members of Parliament. Given that Parliament presently is made up of 275 members, the quorum required for the conduct of its business is 92 MPs. On the clear wording of the provision, the person presiding is not counted as part of the quorum,” the A-G submitted.
While inviting the court to take particular notice of the words “person presiding” in Article 102, he held that “when the Constitution deliberately meant to specifically exclude a Deputy Speaker or any person who at a material point in time is performing the role of Speaker from being included in the reckoning of any number for any purpose in Parliament, it said so in unambiguous terms.”
He argued that the obvious implication is that all Members of Parliament, including the Deputy Speakers, who are also first and foremost Members of Parliament, are to be counted among the 138 members, which is half of the 275 elected members required before a question may be put on an issue or decision may be made on a matter.
He therefore insisted that Deputy Speakers are not barred by any word in Article 104 from voting on an issue, whether presiding over proceedings or not.
He cited examples from other parts of the world, including the United States of America and Australia, to support his position.