Summary – Justice Abdulai v Attorney-General (2022)
Justice Abdulai, a law lecturer at the University of Professional Studies (UPSA), brought a case before the Supreme Court asking the Court to declare that it was unconstitutional for the First Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Joseph Osei-Owusu, to have counted himself for the purpose of making up a quorum when Parliament approved the 2022 Budget Statement on November 30, 2021.
In this case, the Supreme Court was called upon to interpret articles 102 and 104 of the Constitution and decide (i) whether a Deputy Speaker who presides over parliamentary proceedings in the absence of the Speaker of Parliament can be counted as part of a quorum and (ii) whether a Deputy Speaker can vote when presiding.
Can a Deputy Speaker presiding in the absence of the Speaker be counted as part of a quorum?
The Supreme Court reasoned that there are two separate quorum provisions which govern parliamentary proceedings under the Constitution. There is a general quorum [found in article 102] which provides that for the House to commence with any ordinary business of day, at least one-third of all Members of Parliament (MPs), apart from the person presiding, must be present. That is to say, where Parliament meets to discuss or debate a matter of national importance, at least one-third of MPs must be present for the debate to begin. The second quorum [found in article 104(1)] applies specifically to voting to determine a matter in Parliament. That is to say, where Parliament is voting to decide on whether to approve a proposed public agreement or pass a legislation, etc. at least half of all MPs must be present for such a vote to take place. Parliament can commence business and proceed to debate a matter as long as one-third of its members are in attendance. However, it cannot take a decision on a matter (by vote) unless at least one-half of all members are present. While the provision on the ‘non-voting quorum’ [article 102(1)] expressly preclude the Deputy Speaker presiding from being counted as part of a quorum, the ‘voting quorum’ [article 104(1)] does not place any such restriction on a Deputy Speaker.
Can a Deputy Speaker vote when presiding in the absence of the Speaker?
The Court reasoned that while a Deputy Speaker is required by the Constitution to be an MP representing a constituency, the Speaker is not. The Speaker, not being an MP, is precluded from having either an ordinary vote or a casting vote. However, a Deputy Speaker like any MP is only disqualified from voting where he is found in a transaction-specific conflict of interest situation. That is, an MP ‘who is a party to or a partner in a firm which is a party to a contract with the Government [article 104(5)]’. Therefore, in the absence of any such conflict, a Deputy Speaker is entitled to vote. To cause an MP to forfeit his/her vote merely on account of having to preside over parliamentary proceedings would unfairly disenfranchise the MP and also his/her constituents.
Nicholas Opoku is a Legal and Governance Policy Analyst at CDD-Ghana