Contempt of Parliament- Sri Lanka should consider contempt of parliament to be a criminal offence.
Posted on December 8th, 2012

By Amaris

Parliament of Sri Lanka should evaluate statements of some of  the opposition politicians, lawyers and NGO groups including statements  of CJ and her lawyers for possible cases of contempt of  Parliament and see whether these statements amount, or are intended or likely to amount, to  improper interference with the free exercise by a House or committee of its authority or functions, or with the free performance by  members of the members’ duties.

Contempt of parliament is the offence of obstructing the legislature in the carrying out of its functions, or of hindering any legislator in the performance of his or her duties. Actions that may constitute contempt of parliament include:

  • deliberately misleading a house of the legislature, or a legislative committee;
  • refusing to testify before, or to produce documents to, a house or committee; and
  • attempting to influence a member of the legislature by bribery or threats.
  • Premature publication of proceedings, evidence of report of parliamentary committee
  • Publication of false or distorted report of the proceedings of the house or parliamentary committee
  • Publication of expunged proceeding of the house or parliamentary committee

In some cases, the house of the legislature may declare any act to constitute contempt, and this is not subject to judicial review.

The contempt of parliament is defined by statute; while the legislature makes the initial decision of whether to punish for contempt, the person or organisation in contempt may not be able to appeal to the courts. Sri Lanka should consider contempt of parliament to be a criminal offence.

General rules of Confidentiality of committee papers and proceedings ( similar to the British Parliament)

Papers received by committees, and the details of committees’ private discussions, are confidential to the committee until and unless they are published as evidence or made public in a report. Papers relevant to a particular public evidence session are often made available to the press and public at that session, and may then be treated as public. Indeed it is open to the committee to agree to publish a paper at any time or to give witnesses permission to publish evidence themselves, but in the absenceof such a decision Members, staff and specialist advisers are under an obligation to treat select committee papers as confidential. Members are responsible for ensuring that their own staff respect the confidentiality of any committee papers to which they are givenaccess.

Disclosure of a document which has not yet been formally “ƒ”¹…”reported’ to the House – in particular of a draft report, or of an agreed report before it has officially been made to the House “”…” is a contempt of the House.

The House has approved a report from the Committee on Standards and Privileges which made clear that any

disclosure of a draft report, even to another Member of the House, was unacceptable, and any Member not on the committee or any civil servant receiving such a draft report is under an obligation to make no use of it

and return it to the clerk at once. Extracts from this report, and earlier guidance from the Liaison Committee, are set out in Appendices D, E and F to this guide. The Speaker has also deprecated the disclosure of the contents of reports after they have been made formally to the House but prior to publication.

Where a committee, having held an initial investigation, believes that the premature disclosure of a committee document has seriously affected its work (as would often be the case, for example, if a draft report were disclosed) it may make a special report to the House saying so (after consulting the Liaison Committee). Such a report is automatically referred to the Committee on Standards and Privileges to undertake an inquiry into what happened, and recommend what action the House should take. Reports from that Committee have led to the House taking action against Members, including a period of suspension from the House.

 Government replies

The Government will normally make a response to a select committee report, either publishing it itself (as a Command Paper) or sending a memorandum to the committee, which can be published

as a special report (simply saying, in effect, “we have received the following reply …”), although the committee can publish the response with further comments or take further evidence. The Government has undertaken to reply within two months of the publication of the report, when possible, but may seek the committee’s agreement to allow a longer period. In some cases where a report has  ecommendations affecting a body outside Government (for example the Bank of England) responses will be received from more than one source. It is sometimes convenient for the committee to publish such responses together. The Government’s replies to reports from the Committee of Public Accounts are published as Treasury Minutes (which are Command Papers).

 Debates

A committee may wish to seek a debate in the House about one of its reports: this would normally be after the government reply has been published.

Australia

In the Commonwealth of Australia, the Parliamentary Privileges Act 1987 defines contempt of Parliament as follows:

Conduct (including the use of words)… [which] amounts, or is intended or likely to amount, to an improper interference with the free exercise by a House or committee of its authority or functions, or with the free performance by a member of the member’s duties as a member.

Contempt decisions by the House of Representatives or the Senate are thus subject to review by the Federal Courts.

Punishments are limited under the Act to (for individuals) a fine of $5,000 and/or six months’ imprisonment, or (for corporations) a fine of $25,000.

In the Senate, allegations of contempt are heard by the Privileges Committee, which decides whether or not contempt was committed, and if so, what punishment is to be imposed. In practice, there have been very few times when a hearing determined that anyone was in contempt, and on no occasions has anyone been punished beyond a warning, with an apology and/or appropriate remedial action.

Canada

See also: Parliamentary censure in Canada and Parliamentary Privilege in Canada

The power to find a person in contempt of Parliament stemmed from Section 18 of the Constitution Act, 1867 in which “The privileges, immunities, and powers to be held, enjoyed… shall not confer any privileges, immunities, or powers exceeding those at the passing of such Act held, enjoyed, and exercised by the Commons House of Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and by the members thereof.”[2]

Regarding the above-mentioned “privileges,” there is an important difference between the “individual parliamentary privileges” and “collective parliamentary privileges.” This difference is also important in any case of “breach of privilege” as it applies to Parliamentary privilege in Canada.

Contempt citation cases for individuals

Rarely has the Canadian federal parliament invoked its power to find an individual in contempt: There were “contempt citation” cases in 1913,[3] 1976,[3] 2003,[3] 2008[3] and 2011.[4]

The April 10, 2008 case involved Royal Canadian Mounted Police deputy commissioner Barbara George who was cited for contempt for deliberately misleading a parliamentary committee over an income trust scandal. She was ultimately found in contempt but was not punished further than the motion itself.[5]

The March 2011 contempt citation case involved Conservative MP Bev Oda.[4] While she was found to be prima facie in contempt by the Speaker, Oda was not formally held in contempt because Parliament was dissolved before a vote could be held on the matter.[6]

Hong Kong

Contempt of the Legislative Council is a criminal offence.[16]

United Kingdom

Contempt of Parliament consists of interference with parliamentary privilege and of certain acts that obstruct the house and its members in their business.

Partial list of those held in contempt since 1975in US

This section requires expansion. (September 2010)

 

Person

Subcommittee/Committee

Chamber

Ultimate Disposition

Rogers C.B. Morton (Republican),
Secretary of Commerce
November 11, 1975
Subcommittee of the House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce
Not
considered
Morton released the material to the subcommittee.
Henry Kissinger (Republican),
Secretary of State
November 15, 1975
House Select Committee on Intelligence
Not
considered
Citation dismissed after “substantial compliance” with subpoena.
Joseph A. Califano, Jr. (Democrat),
Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare
August 6, 1978
Subcommittee of the House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce
Not
considered
Califano complied with the subpoena about one month after the subcommittee citation.
Charles W. Duncan, Jr. (Democrat),
Secretary of Energy
April 29, 1980
Subcommittee of the House Committee on Government Operations
Not
considered
Duncan supplied the material by 14 May 1980.
James B. Edwards (Republican),
Secretary of Energy
July 23, 1981
Environment, Energy, and Natural Resources Subcommittee of the House Committee on Government Operations
Not
considered
Documents were delivered to Congress prior to full Committee consideration of the contempt citation.
James G. Watt (Republican),
Secretary of the Interior
February 9, 1982
Subcommittee of House Committee on Energy and Commerce
25 February 1982
House Committee on Energy and Commerce
Not
considered
The White House delivered documents to the Rayburn House Office Building for review by Committee members for four hours, providing for no staff or photocopies.
Anne Gorsuch (Republican),
Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency
December 2, 1982
Oversight Subcommittee of the House Committee on Public Works and Transportation

House Committee on Public Works and Transportation

House of Representatives After legal cases and a court dismissal of the executive Branch’s suit, the parties reached an agreement to provide documents.
Rita Lavelle (Republican),
EPA official
April 26, 1983
House Committee on Energy and Commerce
House of Representatives Indicted for lying to Congress; convicted; sentenced to 6 months in prison, 5 years probation thereafter, and a fine of $10,000
Jack Quinn (Democrat),
White House Counsel
David Watkins,
White House Director of Administration
Matthew Moore, White House aide
May 9, 1996
House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
Not
considered
Subpoenaed documents were provided hours before the House of Representatives was set to consider the contempt citation.
Janet Reno (Democrat),
Attorney General
August 6, 1998
House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
Not
considered
Documents in question were revealed during the impeachment of President Clinton.
Harriet Miers (Republican),
Former White House Counsel
Joshua Bolten (Republican), White House Chief of Staff
July 25, 2007
House Committee on the Judiciary[11]
February 14, 2008
House of Representatives[12]
On March 4, 2009, Miers and former Deputy Chief of Staff to President Bush Karl Rove, agreed to testify under oath before Congress about the firings of U.S. attorneys
Eric Holder (Democrat), Attorney General June 20, 2012
House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform[13]
June 28, 2012
House of Representatives
Found in criminal[14] and civil[15] contempt

 

 

One Response to “Contempt of Parliament- Sri Lanka should consider contempt of parliament to be a criminal offence.”

  1. douglas Says:

    Thanks for the input. In the case of Sri Lanka this “Contempt of Parliament” must be brought against none other than the Seven Members of the PSC. As reported, we saw how they conducted the Investigation without even primarilly laying down the procedure as regards the presentation of the evidence, examination and cross examination of the witnesses, giving only less than twenty four hours to persue over 1000 documents and submitt explanations etc. You would have notice the reasons given in the withdrawal of the four Opposition members of the PSC and that itself explains the situation existed behind the close doors of the meetings. These reasons have not been so far refuted by the Chairman of the PSC. Also out of the 14 charges, the PSC investigated only a few and relied only on High Powered witnesses summoned in a hurry. Even the witnesses list was not made available to the defending party. Now they have declared the deffendant is found “guilty” on “three” charges and the rest have been dropped. Apart from that, the very behaviou of two members of the Committee towards the defendant, as reported and pointed out by the resigning four members had been disgraceful and most unbecoming of Members of Parliament elected by the People of Sri Lanka. This too has not been refuted so far.

    Can you please add to the “Partial List”any other Democratic country or state where a Committee Appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives has conducted assigned Investigations in the above said manner and the manner of “Ultimate Disposition”?

    In my opinion this “Parliament Committee” has acted in a Disgraceful manner and had brought disrepute to our Democratic System of Governance enshrined in the Statutes of Sri Lanka. In the circumstances, these seven members of the Parliament Committee appointed by the Speaker to look into some matters presented to him by 117 other members of the House MUST be charged for “Contempt of Parliament”, “Bringing Disrepute to the Country”, “Violation of Rules of Justice” and “”Unscruplous Behaviour at Official Meetings”.

    It is now opportune for the Official Opposition of the Parliament of Sri Lanka together with any other right thinking members of the House to bring a “No Confidence” motion and “Impeach” the seven members of this Committee.

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