Petitioner wants House Speakers to be law degree holders

Mase. [File, Standard]

A petition seeking to make it mandatory for Speakers of Parliament and county assemblies to have a law degree has been presented to the Senate.

The petition is seeking amendment of section 21(1) and section 22(1)(b) of the Elections Act by adding academic qualifications of the Speakers of Parliament and county assemblies to be holders of bachelor's Degree in Law from a recognized university.

The petitioner, Keiyian Ward MCA Simon Lenguiyia from Narok county argued that the position of Speaker requires a legal mind who understands the law and appreciates constitutionalism to ensure Parliament and county assemblies pass quality laws in line with the Constitution.

“It could be argued that a Speaker needs to be someone who understands a wide range of issues not limited to legal issues, it could also be argued that one does not have to be a lawyer to understand the law or make sound decisions, but again what are the chances of getting it wrong with someone who is not learned in law,” argued Lenguiyia.

The MCA argued that the Speaker’s academic qualification plays a big role at the county level where critical legislation is passed affecting unique aspects of the people's lives and economies of devolved units.

The petitioner noted that most county assemblies have Speakers who do not understand the law including the Standing Orders, the lawmaking process, interpretation and application of the law hence are unable to guide debate.

“Some Speakers of county assemblies across the 47 counties cannot appreciate basic principles of law and are unable to contextualise issues and address them by applying the Standing Orders, constitutional provisions or national legislation to it,” he said.

Lenguiyia said if the Attorney General, Chairperson of the Kenya National Commission for Human Rights, Judges and members of tribunals must be law degree holders because they make decisions on legal issues why is the same case not being applied to Speakers of Parliament and county assemblies.

He argued that the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights Act requires the Chairperson to have knowledge of the law and experience of 10 years while article 156(3) of the Constitution requires the Attorney General to be an Advocate with 15 years experience hence Speakers should have similar qualifications.

The petition seeks to have Standing Orders of the Senate, National Assembly and county assemblies amended to provide that the mandate of members of the Speakers panel should be limited to the facilitation of debate and matters requiring ruling to be deferred to a date when the Speaker or his Deputy shall be available.

“The Speaker makes critical decisions in the legislation process, he guides debates in the chambers, rules on objections, guides the legislation process, settles contentious matters, he is the Judge of the assembly and his ruling is final as provided for in the standing orders,” said Lenguiyia.

The MCA said while it can be argued that the law is at the disposal of everyone, the Speaker should be a law degree holder since he/she is at the centre of democratic engagement in the House.

The petitioner argued that any state or public officer must be equipped with the knowledge and understanding of the law and how to apply it, because lack of the same can lead to unconstitutional legislation and low-quality decisions.

“I am appealing to the Senate to deal with this petition on the need to have Speakers having mandatory legal qualifications as soon as possible in view of the urgency and seriousness of the issues raised to avoid political interest that may collapse it during the 2027 electioneering period,” said Lenguiyia.

Article 43(1) of the 1963 Constitution provides that the Speaker of the Senate shall be elected from among the senators or persons qualified to be elected as senator.

In 1963 the law did not prescribe academic qualifications of the Speaker save for article 40(1) (b) which provided that one had to be able to speak and read English to be able to actively take part in the proceedings.

Section 37 of the 1969 Constitution provides that the Speaker of the National Assembly was to be elected from members of the house or any person who qualified to be elected to the august house.

According to Article 106 of the 2010 Constitution, the qualification of the Speaker is similar to that of a Member of Parliament with Article 99 (1) (b) providing that one is qualified to be elected as a Member of Parliament if he satisfies the educational requirement prescribed by the legislation.

With respect to the county assemblies, Article 178(3) of the Constitution leaves it to Parliament to enact legislation prescribing qualifications for election to the position of assembly Speaker.