GENERAL LAWS AMENDMENT BILL, 2015
The purpose of this Bill is to ensure that all Acts of Parliament in force before the new Constitution became effective are, to the extent of any inconsistency with the Constitution, aligned with the Constitution. The changes are mostly of a minor nature. The opportunity has also been taken to resolve some minor anomalies in the statute book. The more important amendments are the subject of the commentary below.
PART 1: AMENDMENT OF INTERPRETATION ACT
These amendments update the definition section of the Interpretation Act to amend or include definitions of terms found in the new Constitution.
The principle of the supremacy of the Constitution as a fundamental principle of statutory interpretation is embodied in section 2(1) of the new Constitution: "This Constitution is the supreme law of Zimbabwe and any law, practice, custom or conduct inconsistent with it is invalid to the extent of the inconsistency". Before the enactment of this principle, statutory interpretation was premised on the concept of the sovereignty of Parliament, whose supremacy in the legislative sphere was qualified only by express words in the constitution derogating from it.
A textual approach to statutory interpretation suits this concept, since the words in which Parliament expresses itself are definitive. The principle of the supremacy of the Constitution does not abolish this textual approach, except to the extent that the values underlying the statutory text in question are shown to be clearly in conflict with the values enshrined in the Constitution. In that event, the sovereignty of the Constitution trumps that of Parliament, requiring a value-based approach to statutory interpretation which ensures that the values of the Constitution prevail over those of the statutory text. This amendment to the Interpretation Act includes a new section giving effect to the principle of the supremacy of the Constitution.
PART V: AMENDMENT OF THE PRIVILEGES, IMMUNITIES AND POWERS OF PARLIAMENT ACT
Section 148 of the new Constitution fundamentally alters the power of Parliament to defend its dignity and prestige in face of contempt towards it and breaches of its privileges. The relevant portion of the constitutional provision provides that "no ... Act may permit Parliament or its Members or officers to impose any punishment in the nature of a criminal penalty, other than a fine, for breach of privilege or contempt of Parliament".
Before the new Constitution Pari iament had the option of requesting the AttorneyGeneral (now the Prosecutor-General) to launch a prosecution in respect of any offence over which Parliament could exercise its autonomous criminal jurisdiction. This amendment strengthens that provision in the light of the new constitutional restriction on Parliament's penal power for certain offences over which it had jurisdiction. For any imprisonable offence Parliament might find it is appropriate to invoke the aid of the Prosecutor-General rather than for it to try the offence itself, since it can only impose a fine.