The Supreme Court has ruled that a Deputy Speaker of Parliament, or any other member of the legislature presiding over the business of the House, does not lose his or her right to vote while presiding.
Such a Speaker or Member can also be counted as part of the quorum for decision making in the House under Article 104(1) of the 1992 Constitution.
The Court, consequently, struck down Order 109 (3) of the Standing Orders of Parliament, describing it as “unconstitutional”.
The Order provides that a Deputy Speaker or any other member of Parliament presiding over the business of the House shall not retain his or her original vote while presiding.
Instructively, the Supreme Court has upheld Deputy Speaker Joseph Osei-Owusu’s decision to count himself as forming quorum in the lead-up to the controversial approval of the Government’s 2022 Budget.
The landmark judgment was given in a case brought by a law professor, Justice Abdulai contesting the Deputy Speaker’s decision to count himself as forming quorum for a vote on the budget.
In his application for constitutional interpretation, Justice Abdulai asked among other things that: “upon a true and proper interpretation of Articles 102 and 104(1) of the 1992 constitution, a Speaker or any other person presiding over Parliament cannot be said to be part of the members present for the purposes of decision-making. Upon a true and proper interpretation of Articles 102 and 104(1), the First and Second Deputy Speakers, when presiding over Parliament, have the same authority as the Speaker of Parliament and can therefore not be counted as MPs present for the purposes of making a decision in accordance with Article 104(1) of the 1992 constitution.”
Consequent upon these, he asked the Supreme Court to declare that the decision taken on 30 November 2021 to approve the 2022 Budget amounts to a nullity and is of no effect.
The 7-Member Supreme Court, however, held that a Member-Speaker is entitled to be counted for purposes of quorum, for doing business, and to vote in the business of the House (even while presiding).
The Supreme Court was composed of Justices Jones Dotse as President, Nene Amegatcher, Prof. Ashie Kotei, Mariama Owusu, Avril Lovelace Johnson, Clemence Honyenuga and Yonny Kulendi.
Their judgment will be lodged with the Supreme Court Registry on or before Friday, March 11, 2022.
The ruling affirms the position of the First Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Joseph Osei Owusu, that he did nothing wrong by voting to approve the 2022 budget, although he was presiding as speaker in the stead of Alban Bagbin.
On November 30, last year, Mr Osei-Owusu who is also the elected Member of Parliament for Bekwai (NPP) in the Ashanti Region, presided over an NPP-sided House to overturn an earlier vote of the House rejecting the Government’s 2022 Budget.
The Bekwai MP, though presiding over the business of the House on the occasion, counted himself for the purposes of taking what turned out to be a controversial vote.
This vote effectively overturned the earlier vote which had been taken by an NDC-sided House, conducted by Speaker Bagbin on November 26.
The other side of the House had on the two occasions boycotted the House over concerns they had voiced out.
Then on Tuesday, February 22, 2022, the First Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Joseph Osei-Owusu, in another move, ruled, dismissing a motion that had already been admitted by Speaker Bagbin for a bi-partisan Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry into Government’s COVID-19 Expenditure.
A lawyer cum law lecturer, Justice Abdulai subsequent to the November 30, 2021 clash between Speaker Bagbin and his First Deputy, invited the Supreme Court to pronounce as unconstitutional, Deputy Speaker, Joseph Osei-Owusu’s action of counting himself for the purposes of quorum.
He argued in the context of articles 102 and 104 of the 1992 Constitution that the Deputy Speaker was not permitted to count himself for the purposes of quorum, since he had neither an original nor a casting vote as Speaker presiding.
Following the judgement, Justice Abdulai said he is not surprised by the ruling and is happy that the intervention of the court will bring clarity to the standing orders of Parliament.
He also hinted at plans to get the Supreme Court’s intervention in interpreting many other complex situations in Ghana’s laws.
“I’m not surprised by the ruling. The constitution and the people of Ghana win. This puts clarity on the law despite the fact that some of the reliefs that I was seeking was not obtained but there is a far-reaching decision that has been taken by the supreme court today to the extent of striking out portions of the standing orders.”