Thursday, January 27, 2022

Former apex court judge warns states against pre-empting federal govt’s decision on emergency

The reminder by former Federal Court judge Gopal Sri Ram follows a string of announcements from states on the reopening of their legislative assemblies in August.

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Former Federal Court judge Gopal Sri Ram has warned states against pre-empting any decision by Putrajaya by announcing the reopening of state legislative assemblies before the expiry of the virus emergency.

Sri Ram said any such decision would be rendered meaningless if the state of emergency, which is due to expire on Aug 1, is extended owing to the Covid-19 situation.

“The ultimate decision is with the federal Cabinet. States cannot pre-empt a decision by the federal Cabinet,” he told MalaysiaNow.

His reminder follows a series of announcements by state authorities, including by the sultan of Johor today who ordered the state assembly to meet on Aug 12.

The move echoed the call by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and fellow Malay rulers who on June 16 said Parliament and state assembly sittings should be held as soon as possible.

The rulers also supported the Agong’s view that Parliament should be convened at the earliest possible date, adding that the state of emergency should end as scheduled on Aug 1.

The rulers’ statements sparked a debate on the powers of the sultans, although legal experts agree that the palace has no authority to call for a parliamentary sitting.

Sri Ram, who served in both the Court of Appeal and Federal Court, is one of several former top judicial officers who in recent days have issued reminders that the Agong as a constitutional monarch is bound by the advice of the prime minister and Cabinet in carrying out his official royal duties, as spelt out by the Federal Constitution.

His stand has been echoed by, among others, former chief justice Abdul Hamid Mohamad and former attorney-general Mohamed Apandi Ali, both of whom said the Agong must act according to the prime minister’s counsel.

Sri Ram today said sittings of state assemblies cannot take place under the Emergency (Essential Powers) Ordinance 2021, which spells out the terms of the current emergency that came into effect in January.

Besides suspending Parliament, Section 15 of the ordinance states that provisions related to summoning, proroguing and dissolving a state assembly in federal as well as state constitutions have no effect for the duration of the emergency.

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