15 November 2022
By Rehan Piracha
ISLAMABAD: The Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs has passed a bill to protect parliamentarians from arrests or detentions after notification of summoning a session of both houses is issued.
The Senate committee, chaired by Senator Taj Haider, passed the bill on ‘The Members of Parliament Privileges and Immunities Act 2022’ on November 14.
According to the text of the bill, no parliamentarian can be arrested after the notification of a session of the National Assembly or Senate. The bill was moved by Senator Raza Rabbani.
Speaking with Voicepk.net, Senator Taj Haider said the bill was not intended to grant immunity to parliamentarians from crimes but it sought to prevent arm-twisting of members ahead of crucial votes by arresting or detaining them on criminal and civil charges ahead of sessions. He said the bill would mostly benefit opposition members in both houses, referring to the Pakistan Tehrik Insaf. “Opposition senators Ali Zafar and Waleed Iqbal welcomed and supported the bill,” Haider said.
The Senate committee did not make substantial amendments to the bill as proposed by Senator Rabbani, Haider said. “Instead of barring arrest of a member 15 days prior to the commencement of a session, the committee instead amended it to 8 days prior to the notification of the session,” Haider said.
THE BILL CANNOT BE SUPERSEDED BY ANOTHER
He said the committee also approved an amendment with the insertion of an overriding clause in the bill. “The overriding clause means that the bill will not be superseded by any other laws,” the PPP senator explained.
“The clause, which provided a member will not be arrested under any preventive detention laws fifteen days prior and fifteen days after a session has been amended, now it provides when the session has been summoned,” Rabbani told Voicepk.net. In the title of the bill the word Immunities has been added, he added.
An amendment, moved by opposition members, was also approved that added President to the definition of Parliament in the bill. According to the Constitution, the President is considered part of parliament, he added.
The committee chairman said the officials of parliamentary affairs had suggested that there was no need for the bill as the suggested protections could be done through amendments in the Senate rules. However, Senator Raza Rabbani stressed that the amendments to the rules were not enough rather an act of parliament would be enacted.
In the meeting, Senator Rabbani said members of parliament were kept in custody to fulfil the political agenda. He mentioned that he had already written a letter to the speaker and the chairman on the matter.
According to the bill, the arrest or detention of a parliamentarian is to be intimated to the Speaker or Senate Chairman. “When an FIR is registered or Reference is
filed, against a Member, the Chairman or Speaker, as the case may be, shall be informed and copy of the FIR or Reference, as the case may be, shall be provided within twenty-four hours of such registration or filing,” reads the bill.
PRODUCTION ORDERS WILL BE MANDATORY
It also makes the issuance of the production order of the arrested member mandatory for NA or Senate sessions, as well as meetings of the house committees.
The committee approved the bill presented by Senator Rabbani along with necessary amendments suggested by Senator Ali Zafar, Senator Waleed Iqbal and the parliamentary affairs secretary.
ARRESTED MEMBERS WOULD BE FORCED TO CHANGE PARTY LOYALTY OR VOTE BY FORCE: RABBANI
In the statement of objects and reasons in the bill, Senator Rabbani stated that in Pakistan’s chequered history, the arrest of Members of Parliament under detention laws, civil or criminal proceedings has been a common phenomenon.
“The purpose is to induce a change in party loyalties and or prevent members from the performance of their constitutional and parliamentary duties and functions, and or to prevent them from voting or forcefully abstaining in a crucial vote.”
Rabbani pointed out that the legislation in terms of the “The Members of National Assembly (Exemption from Preventive Detention and Personal Appearance) Ordinance 1963, was promulgated. “The said ordinance melted like snow as it could not withstand the heat of our polity,” he said. Similar legislation exists in the subcontinent as well, Rabbani added.
“The purpose of the instant Bill is not of conferring a privilege on a Member of Parliament but to facilitate them in exceptional circumstances to perform their constitutional duty and obligation of performing their Parliamentary functions without let or hindrance,” Rabbani concluded.