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Malta’s Mr Speaker rules, OK?

Raymond Mangion: Speakers’ Rulings in the Parliament of Malta, the Legislative Assembly, 1921-1924, First volume, parts I & II, Parliament of Malta. Malta University Press. 2012, 2,500 pp.

Anyone minimally interested in the workings of Parliament, and of its procedures and practices, must know of Erskine May, the author of the highly authoritative reference book on British Parliamentary procedure.

They must also appreciate the high esteem the book enjoys to this very day among Parliamentarians and more pertinently, the Speakers of Malta’s House of Representatives. These reverently refer to it as the “bible” on parliamentary procedure.

Whenever Mr Speaker, or in the one and solitary occasion the Speaker was female, Madam Speaker, bases a ruling on the teachings of May, there is general acquiescence by Members of Parliament from both sides of the House, based on the persuasiveness of the source behind the ruling.

A masterly work in legal editorship, in the best scholarly meaning of the term

Constitutionally, therefore, May is safely considered as a highly authoritative source of Maltese parliamentary procedure.

Yet, there are stirrings of a very local flavour. Prof. Raymond Mangion’s Speakers’ Rulings in the Parliament of Malta, 1921-1924 enriches our legal literature through a project which can only be defined as monumental. In 2,500 pages, Mangion covers the seminal period starting from the 1921 Constitution, the first to give the Maltese a fully representative Legislative Assembly under British rule.

The sheer extent of the compilation may be gauged by the fact that May reaches 1,000 pages in its complete version. Each and every ruling given by the Speakers of Malta’s first Parliament is reproduced by Prof. Mangion.

Yet, rest assured, this is no mechanical exercise in reproduction, even if that would have been already very useful and important on its own.

This is a masterly work in legal editorship, in the best scholarly meaning of the term. Each ruling is numbered seriatim , given a brief synopsis of the import of the ruling and meticulously recorded by theme, source, session of Parliament, date, volume of debates and even by the relative page of the debates.

If all this were not enough, the author manages to depict the political and parliamentary context in which the ruling was given. This last feature gives a unique facet to the legal editorship provided by Mangion.

The contextualising of the rulings helps the volume transcend their mere indexing and classification and, in fact, it overspills into the realm of parliamentary reporting of debates which took place 92 years ago.

Politicians of the time, who are still part and parcel of our constitutional and political heritage, make their appearance in Prof. Mangion’s exercise in contextualisation of the rulings. These include personalities like Lord Strickland, Enrico Mizzi, Francesco Buhagiar, Augusto Bartolo, Ugo P. Mifsud, Joseph Howard, the then Reverend Prof. Michele Gonzi – most of these were to occupy the office of Prime Minister of Malta and, in Gonzi’s case, that of Archbishop of Malta.

There is also the recording of myriad other Members of Parliament who may not have reached the pinnacle of political fame, but who nonetheless had also served conscientiously their duties of MPs.

They did this by requesting Mr Speaker to provide innumerable rulings, without which the workings of Malta’s first Parliament, entirely elected by the electorate, would not have functioned as it ought to have had.

The Speakers who were the protagonists of the two parts of this first volume were Edgar Arrigo and Salvatore Borg Olivier. Their rulings all form part of a thematic Index by Ruling.

Having gone through the very wide range of issues, on which they were called upon to give rulings, makes me aware of how useful, in fact essential, this work will become to researchers, academics, public lawyers, students and anyone who wants to learn more on the wealth of learning which our Parliament, from its inception, was capable of producing.

Mention is also made of the outgoing Mr Speaker, Michael Frendo, under whose aegis this seminal reference book saw the light of day.

The former Mr Speaker informs us in his Forward that “these publications, appropriately indexed, would also give rise to a fully searchable online database which is to be made accessible to all”.

He assures us that this ambitious project is intended to extend up till our own Parliamentary days and “when all is put together this compendium of rulings should also be the basis for an analytical study which will create for Malta its own Erskine May, based on our own decisions and experience. A further expression of statehood coming of age”.

The newly elected Mr Speaker, Anġlu Farrugia, will certainly do all that is necessary so that this national project continues under the best of auspices, allowing Parliament, together with its co-publisher, the Malta University Press, to bless our increasing legal literature with as many volumes as humanly possible of this veritably illuminating series.

Dr Austin Bencini, LL.D., Ph.D, is Head of Department and Senior Lecturer of Public Law in the Faculty of Laws, University of Malta.

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