Speaker gets tough, says he must be informed of any arrest of MPs

Wednesday, 4 March 2015 00:08 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Ashwin Hemmathagama Our Lobby Correspondent Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa yesterday reiterated that he should be kept informed of any arrests of Members of Parliament. Responding to the guidance sought by Deputy Minister of Justice Sujeewa Senasinghe, the Speaker made it clear that the Parliamentary (Powers and Privileges) Act No. 21 of 1953 and the directives his predecessors followed should be followed. “As per Section 1 of Parliamentary (Powers and Privileges) Act No. 21 of 1953 no member can be arrested unless he violates the act. Arresting or to detain should not be made while the respective member is present for a Parliamentary sitting, on his way for a sitting, on the way back after a sitting, or on any matter related to a civil matter including debt as per the Act, which doesn’t talk about criminal offences. However, my predecessors, including former Speakers Stanley Thilakaratne and K.B. Rathnayake, have made it clear that keeping the House informed prior to arresting a member on any grounds is required,” said Speaker Rajapakse. Delving into history and outlining how members got arrested on a regular basis, the Speaker said: “I have examined in detail the arrests made in 1958, 1960, 1961, and 1971. Then Prime Ministers kept the Speaker informed as soon as possible. In return, the Speaker kept the House informed, most importantly during the next sitting. On 5 May 1971, former Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike verbally informed the Speaker with details of an arrest of a member, but she failed to do this in writing, for which she has apologised to the House. On 24 June 1958 former Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike had apologised the House for not being able to inform the House promptly. “All these incidents clearly show the tradition followed in the Sri Lanka Parliament to keep the Speaker and the House informed of an arrest of a member. By informing the House, it prevents arresting of political opponents in large numbers. During the recent past, the Speaker was kept informed on most occasions, but this was not followed on several occasions. To secure the powers and the privileges of this House, I hold that the tradition of keeping the Speaker informed should be continued.”