Penang High Court dismisses bid by four assemblymen to stop motion to vacate seats

GEORGE TOWN: The Penang High Court dismissed four assemblymen’s application for an injunction to prevent the Penang state assembly from tabling a motion to vacate their seats until their appeal is heard.

The four assemblymen and plaintiffs are Sungai Acheh assemblyman Zulkifli Ibrahim, Dr Afif Bahardin (Seberang Jaya), Khaliq Mehtab Mohd Ishaq (Bertam) and Zolkifly Md Lazim (Telok Bahang).

Judicial Commissioner Azizan Md Arshad in his decision, on Thursday (March 2), ruled that the courts have no power to interfere with the internal management of Parliament or any State Legislative Assembly.

He said the court must always give recognition to the doctrine of separation of powers.

"This immunity arises from the doctrine of separation of powers between the three principal organs of government, namely, the executive, the legislative and the judiciary.

"If these three branches are left unchecked, there will be a clash that will destroy the doctrine of separation of powers which will affect the freedom of the three to act according to their respective jurisdictions,” he said when delivering the decision via email.

Azizan further said the court has the power to grant an injunction to prevent any authority from doing something that is against the law, but at the same time, the court should also be careful not to exceed the jurisdiction given.

He said the plaintiffs had sought the court to use its discretion to prevent the duties of another body, namely the State Legislative Assembly, which is also created under the State Constitution.

"The plaintiffs’ application is to prevent the jurisdiction of the defendants (Penang State Legislative Assembly and State Assembly Speaker Datuk Law Choo Kiang) who are expressly vested in their exclusive jurisdiction,” he said.

He said the court cannot make any decision that will exceed the jurisdiction of the court and any issue related to the eligibility or disqualification of a member of the state assembly who has been elected through a valid election process is under the jurisdiction of the State Legislative Assembly as stated in the State Constitution.

Azizan said all the plaintiffs, however, were still assemblymen until the decision is made by the defendants, whereby until the motion is made, debated and voted (approved and passed), their qualifications and positions are not affected.

He said the court can only consider the issue for the status quo of the plaintiffs to be maintained or reinstated only if there is a decision that the status quo of all plaintiffs has changed or been removed.

Azizan, therefore, said the plaintiffs have failed to show that an injunction should be granted and dismissed their application with no order as to costs after taking into account the case involved public interest.

On Jan 20, the High Court (Azizan) dismissed the lawsuits by four assemblymen against the two defendants over a motion introduced in October 2020 for them to vacate their seats. They then filed an appeal against the decision at the Court of Appeal on Jan 25.

On Dec 16 last year, a Federal Court bench chaired by Chief Justice Tun Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat dismissed the leave applications by the four assemblymen to challenge the competency of the state legislative assembly to pass an anti-hopping law and ordered the case to be heard on the merits before the High Court.

The four assemblymen filed the suit in 2020 to challenge the constitutionality of Article 14A(1) of the Penang State Constitution (PSC) and to stop their seats from being declared vacant, pursuant to Article 14A(1).

Article 14A states that a state assemblyman shall vacate his seat if having been elected as a candidate of a political party, he resigns or is expelled from a party or having been elected otherwise than as a candidate of a political party, he joins a political party. - Bernama

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