Parliamentary Privilege

Read Complete Research Material


Parliamentary Privilege & Parliamentary Democracy

Parliamentary Privilege & Parliamentary Democracy

Parliamentary privilege (also absolute privilege) is a legal immunity enjoyed by members of certain legislatures, in which legislators are granted protection of civil or criminal liability for actions done or statements made related to one's duties as a legislature. It is common in countries whose constitutions are based on the Westminster system. A similar mechanism is known as parliamentary immunity.

In the United Kingdom, it allows members of the House of Lords and House of Commons to speak freely before those houses without fear of legal action on the grounds of slander. It also means that members of Parliament cannot be arrested on civil matters within the grounds of the Palace of Westminster (there is no immunity from arrest on criminal grounds).[1] A consequence of the privilege of free speech is that legislators in Westminster systems are forbidden by conventions of their House from uttering certain words, such as "liar" (see unparliamentary language).

The rights and privileges of members are overseen by the powerful Committee on Standards and Privileges. If a member of the house is in breach of the rules then he/she can be suspended or even expelled from the House. Such past breaches have included giving false evidence before a committee of the House and the taking of bribes by members.

Similar rights apply in other Westminster system countries, such as Canada and Australia. In the United States, the Speech or Debate Clause in Article One of the United States Constitution provides for parliamentary privilege based on Westminster, and many state constitutions provide similar clauses for their state legislatures.

Parliamentary privilege is controversial because of its potential for abuse; a member can use privilege to make damaging allegations that would ordinarily be discouraged by defamation laws, without first determining whether those allegations have a strong foundation.

The Taoiseach's High Court action centres on the issue of parliamentary privilege, which is enshrined in our Constitution. This is a case of fundamental legal importance.

I believe the Mahon tribunal's interpretation of the Constitution is flawed. It is quite clear that the tribunal does not have the right to ask deputies or senators about anything they say in either house. All the Taoiseach's action seeks to do is to ensure that the tribunal abides by the Constitution.

Article 15.13 of Bunreacht na hEireann is very clear and definite. It says that members of the Oireachtas "shall not", in respect of any utterance made in either house, be amenable to any court or authority other than the House itself.

The Taoiseach has said he has clear advice from his legal team that it would not be correct for him as a Dail deputy and as Taoiseach to answer questions on statements made in the Dail. This is a separation of powers issue, and one of constitutional significance. As Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern would be negligent in his obligations if he chose to ignore this.

No member of Government can bow to directions when advised that they may not respect ...
Related Ads