ACCORDING to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a debate is a contention by words or arguments. The exchange can be civil or it can become heated.

But a debate is also a formal discussion on a particular matter in a public meeting or legislative assembly.

In a Westminster parliament like the Dewan Rakyat, a debate is a formal discussion of a particular proposal. In a debate, MPs take it in turns to speak. A debate follows the rules of the House – that is, the Standing Order (SO) – and parliamentary conventions.

The Dewan Rakyat SO36 is one of 41 rules of debate (SO35 – SO75) that govern debates in the House.

Let’s take the example of SO36(2). It is a rule that ensures that in a debate, no reference shall be made to any matter which is sub judice in such a way as might in the opinion of the chair – the speaker or deputy speaker – prejudice the interests of parties.

From the above, one can see that a debate follows a proposal. A proposal is put forward by an MP by moving a motion.




A motion is accordingly defined as a proposal moved by an MP in accordance with well‑established rules that the House do something, order something done or express an opinion with regard to some matter.

So a motion does not necessarily lead to the House doing something or ordering something done. A motion can simply be a proposal to the House that, if approved, initiates a discussion leading to the House to agree on the matter. That motion then becomes a resolution of the House.

The government is not legally bound to comply with this type of resolution.

Coming back to the rules of debate. The rules do not prevent a motion because it offends the sub judice convention or rule. SO36(2) prevents reference to matters sub judice that prejudice the interest of the parties in the court proceeding.

Don’t disallow a motion because it can be sub judicial because reference to matters sub judice can be prevented.

As they say, don’t miss the forest for the trees. – July 21, 2022.

* Hafiz Hassan reads The Malaysian Insight.

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