Friday, March 18, 2016


The concept of Sovereignty of Parliament is one which is quite opposed to the rule of law as it acts against the principle of Separation of Powers.
By parliament in England, we mean the House of Lords, House of Commons and the Queen.
For a resolution to become an Act of Parliament, it must be reached by the three. Parliament is also referred to as Queen in Parliament.
The discussion bothering on the sovereignty of parliament also applies to those legislative bodies who have supreme authority even more than the constitution e.g in Nigeria from 1966-1999.
The Sovereignty of Parliament can arise from two considerations:
1.                  Parliament can make and unmake any law.
2.                  No authority in England can by law override the law of parliament.
Different instances can be shown to prove that parliament can make and unmake any law:
1.                  Parliament through the Act of Settlement can regulate succession to the crown or throne in the British society. That means it has the power to make and unmake any person the king or queen of England.
2.                  Parliament can by law regulate the dues and taxes payable by any person to the British government. And it can also by law extend the territorial limitation of the British Empire.
3.                  Parliament is elected for a fixed term or tenure but it has been found on several occasions to have extended its tenure in office. e.g in the 18th century, it extended its 3 year tenure to seven, when the king and Prime Minister suspended elections because of the unfavourable political climate. In 1914 and 1918, it extended its tenure from five to ten, also in 1935-1940.
          It has been argued by political and constitutional analyst that when parliament           extends its stay in office, it seizes to be parliament of the people but its own           parliament. On the contrary, other arguments hold to the fact that, when there is           change in law that has provided for a change of the tenure of parliament, the     change or extension of tenure derives its validity from the new amendment or          repeal of the Act of Parliament.
4.                  Parliament can regulate the private rights of British subjects e.g parliament can by law give boys and girls right to inheritance during the lifetime of their parents, it can declare certain aliens as citizens of Britain, it can also by law declare persons born under unlawful wedlock as legitimate children while those born under lawful wedlock as illegitimate children.
          It is evident from the above that parliament regulates the rights and duties of    private individuals as well as their enforcement. It is this that has given rise to the        adage: “Parliament can make and unmake anything in England except to change a       man into a woman.”
5.                  Parliament can by law give legal protection retrospectively to acts or omissions that were illegal when committed. It can enact an Indemnity Act exempting persons from legal liabilities to crimes committed by them. Parliament can also declare illegal, retrospectively, actions that were hitherto not illegal.
There is an argument surrounding the second consideration that no person or body of persons can by law override the laws made by parliament. It has been said that there are other persons allowed to make laws or disobey the laws made by parliament. These persons that make laws are said to be equal with parliament. Also, proclamations made by the crown are said to be equal to Acts of Parliament. But this has been disputed, because for proclamations to become law, they must be recognized by the will of parliament.
Parliament has the right to regulate its internal proceedings and no one outside including the courts is to interfere with its internal proceedings.
Parliament also has the right to declare an action as contempt of its authority and nobody including the court can hold an act as been contemptuous or punish for such contempt of the powers of parliament. This was the contention in the case of Hamsard V. Stockdale. The court held Hamsard guilty for publishing parliamentary proceedings, that his act was libelous. Parliament argued that it has authority to permit for publication of its proceedings under the Resolution of Parliament which is also an Act of Parliament. The court refused this view and held that Resolution of Parliament is not law and can not override an Act of Parliament.
Parliament appeared to have accepted the court’s interpretation by enacting the Parliamentary Papers Act permitting publishers to publish Acts of parliament.
For punishment of contempt of parliamentary authority, the case of the Sheriff of Middlesex provides us with the Locus Classicus. After deciding Hamsard’s Case, the court ordered the sheriff to seal the property of the publishers. The sheriff on carrying out this order, the parliament ordered the sheriff to be imprisoned for contempt of its authority. The sheriff pleaded with the court to declare his imprisonment illegal and restore his freedom. The court held, that it lacks capacity to interfere with the parliament imprisoning the sheriff and that the powers of parliament was a non-speaking one. That is, the House cannot be compelled to give reasons for its actions.

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