With reference to various articles written in the newspapers of Guyana, subsequent to the 79th Sitting of the National Assembly, concerning the entrance of police officers into the Parliamentary Chamber, which obtained during that Sitting, I wish to bring clarity to popular misconceptions with regard to the police acting unlawfully.
Police officers assigned to the precincts of the Parliament are not only responsible for the security of the precincts, but are also required to assist with the maintenance of order within the Parliamentary Chamber, once necessary. This practice is common within all Parliaments, and, in many Parliaments, Members of Parliament as well as visitors in the Public Gallery have been removed from the Chamber and its precincts.
It should be noted that the Sergeant-at-Arms of the Parliament of Guyana operates on the instructions of the Speaker of the National Assembly during Sittings. When the Speaker instructs, according to Standing Order No. 47 (7) of the Standing Orders of the National Assembly of the Parliament of Guyana, “If resort to force is necessary, the Speaker may suspend the Sitting during the removal of the Member.”
On Monday, December 11, 2017, during the 79th Sitting of the National Assembly, the Sergeant-at-Arms was instructed to remove a Member of Parliament after he refused to obey the direction of the Speaker to forthwith withdraw from the Assembly and its precincts. It therefore became necessary for the Speaker to suspend the Sitting, pursuant to Standing Order No. 47 (7).
What does “resort to force” mean in parliamentary practice? Once resort to force becomes necessary to remove a Member who has refused to obey a direction of the Speaker, the Sergeant-at-Arms is required to seek the assistance of the relevant police force or other police authority. It is only after order is restored that the House can resume the business that it was summoned to undertake.
Referring to an incident in the United Kingdom’s House of Commons, the 24th edition of Erskine May Parliamentary Practice at page 457 states that the Speaker directed the Sergeant-at-Arms to remove a Member of Parliament who refused to comply with an instruction to withdraw. The Sergeant-at-Arms, “finding that force was necessary, brought in his officers… ”
Similarly, Standing Order No. 55 (12) of the House of Representatives of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago states that if “resort to force is necessary, the Speaker may suspend the sitting during the removal of the Member.” It further provides that, in ejecting an offending Member, the assistance of any police officer may be obtained.
In the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago, there have been instances when officers of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service have been called in to assist the Sergeant-at-Arms (Marshal) to remove grossly disorderly persons, including Members of Parliament, from the Parliament’s Chamber and precincts.
Only recently, the police in South Africa were summoned to remove Members of Parliament from the Chamber. Moreso, on more than one occasion, the Speaker of the Parliament of the Republic of South Africa resorted to force and summoned security officers, who are members of the South African Police Service, to forcibly remove Members of Parliament. For reference, these occasions were in November, 2014; February, 2015; and February, 2017.
It is worthy to note that if there is gross disorder in the Parliamentary Chamber, including assaults, the Sergeant-at-Arms of the Parliament of Guyana is not equipped to deal with matters of such nature and the Guyana Police Force would have to be summoned.
It must also be noted that the Speaker of the National Assembly does not have to directly instruct that the police be called in. When a lawful instruction is given to the Sergeant-at- Arms, if necessary, the police would be called in.
In the current instance, the Speaker of the National Assembly directed the Sergeant-at-Arms to remove the Member, and, since the Sergeant-at-Arms was unable to remove the offending Member, the assistance of the Guyana Police Force was rightfully sought and obtained.
The privileges, immunities and powers enjoyed by members of the National Assembly of the Parliament of Guyana, in accordance with Article 172 of the Constitution, do not allow Members to misconduct themselves and enjoy immunity from removal from the Chamber.
It is hoped that this response serves to correct any misconception and to confirm that the summoning of the Police Force or appropriately precepted officers to remove a Member or visitor who has refused to comply with a Speaker’s order to immediately withdraw from the Chamber is standard parliamentary practice throughout the Commonwealth.
S E Isaacs
Clerk of the National Assembly