The way Parliament excutes its business is built on:
- The Constitution of Malta;
- The Standing Orders of the House of Representatives;
- The Rulings; and
- The House of Representatives (Privileges and Powers) Ordinance (Chapter 179 of the Laws of Malta).
Chapter VI of the Constitution of Malta is devoted to Parliament.
This Chapter in divided into 3 parts:
- Composition of Parliament link;
- Powers and Procedure of Parliament; and
- Summoning , prorogation ad dissolution of Parliament.
The Constitution of Malta establishes the most important Standing Orders of the House of Representatives:
- Election of Speaker;
- Oath of Members;
- Quorum in the House of Representatives;
- Voting in Parliament;
- Restriction with regard to certain financial matters;
- Language of Laws; and
- Office of Clerk to the House of Representatives and his staff.
The Standing Orders of the House, amount in all to 197 plus 6 sections under chapter IXA which deals with Standing Committee. They emanate from section 67 of the Constitution which states:
"Subject to the provison of this Constitution, the House of Representatives may regulate its own procedure".
The Standing Orders of the House of Representatives have the force of law (Legal Notice 46/65).
Parliament – then known as the Legislative Council – had its first Standing Orders in 1850.
The Standing Orders of the House, as they stand today, are divided into 22 chapters (plus chapter IXA).
|| Proceedings on the Opening of a new Parliament or Session
|| Sittings, Quorum, Adjournment and Closure
|| Arrangement of Business of the House
|| Order in the House
|| Financial Business
|| Financial Business - Supply
|| Committees of the Whole House
|| Standing Committees
|| Select Committees
|| The Speaker, Deputy Speaker, and Deputy Chairman
|| Members and Privileges of the House
|| Officers of the House
|| Records of the House: Duties of the Clerk
|| Enactment of Laws
|| Accounts, Papers and Printing
|| Messages from the President of Malta
|| Addresses to the President of Malta
c) Rulings of the Chair
The Standing Orders are the written procedure of the House and have the force of law. In addition to these Standing Orders, we find the unwritten practice of the House, in the sense that it is recorded only in Parliamentary debates which do not have the force of law i.e. they are not legislation enacted by Parliament.
The Speaker is the final authority that interprets the Standing Orders and applies them to the procedure of Parliament. The decisions of Mr Speaker must be obeyed the moment they are given, even if Members do not agree with them. However every Member has 48 hours time in which to contest, should he so wish, any ruling of the Chair.
When the Deputy Speaker or Chairman of Committees are in the Chair, they have the same powers of the Speaker. There cannot be an appeal to Mr Speaker, from a ruling given by the Deputy Speaker or by the Chairman of Committees. Mr Speaker is not bound to follow his predecessor, nor indeed is he bound to follow his own rulings given at previous sittings of the House. This, however, is a very rare exception.
d) House of Representatives (Privileges and Powers) Ordinance
In order that Parliament may execute its business without hindrance, it has to be protected from outside intervention, both in its collective form, as well as in the individual members which constitute it.
For this reason, Parliament enjoys certain privileges which are found in the House of representatives (Privileges and Powers) Ordinance (Cap. 113). Reference to the House of Representatives may also be found in Sections 118, 120, 208 and 604 of the Criminal Code (Cap. 9). The above mentioned Ordinance also protects the officers of the House, while in the execution of Parliamentary business.
The principal privilege is that which entails the freedom of speech. In so far as a Members of Parliament abide by the rules of procedure of the House, they may say whatever they like, no matter how offensive their language may be to the sentiments of other people, who are strangers to the House. Members of Parliament are always protected by this law from libel or from any other act of molestation.
Another privilege lies in the fact that Parliament may constitute itself into a supreme Court. Parliament does this, when there arises the need to adjudicate on breaches of its own privileges. The situation, however, has been reviewed following a judgement delivered by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg in 1994. Following amendments to the said Ordinance in 1995 section 7 now states that:
"The House may delegate its power in respect of the examination of witnesses and experts, but not in respect of the infliction of punishment, to the Standing Committee on Privileges mentioned in the Standing Order of the House 120D."
When a breach of privilege occurs during a sitting of the House, Parliament stops all business before it, and treats the case of privilege. But in the case of a breach of privilege not occuring in the House, every Member of Parliament has the right to raise such matter, provided this is done at the first sitting following the incident leading to this breach of privilege.