In a pair of pithy sentences, the Vanuatu Court of Appeal drew a clear line separating the powers of the Parliament and the judiciary. In a nutshell, they declined to overturn a government merely on an interpretation of procedural rules.
Yes, the MPs were partially absent. Yes, this constituted political ‘mischief’. But the harm done was hardly sufficient reason to overturn the duly constituted government of the day.
That’s the voters’ job.
The bench granted that the Vacation of Seats Act clearly intends to dissuade parliamentarians from neglecting their duties, and from using absence of quorum as a way to obstruct parliamentary business. But they concluded that the definition of an absence offered by former Speaker Gracia Shadrack’s lawyers went beyond what the language of the Act allows, and didn’t sufficiently distinguish between the absence of individual MPs, and the impact of their collective absence.
In short: Why should one MP’s absence be punished differently based on whether others were absent or not?
The parties involved were deeply invested in the result, and the stakes over what should have been a procedural question were out of proportion to the content of the dispute. To many court observers, this decision was never really in doubt. Who could reasonably expect the judiciary to overturn an entire government over a political bunfight?
The court wisely abstained, leaving it to Parliament to police itself, and to the voters to judge their performance.