Michaelmas Term [2010] UKSC 52 On appeal from: 2010 EWCA Crim 1910


R v Chaytor and others (Appellants)
Lord Phillips, President
Lord Hope, Deputy President
Lord Rodger
Lady Hale
Lord Brown
Lord Mance
Lord Collins
Lord Kerr
Lord Clarke
1 December 2010
10 November 2010
Heard on 18 and 19 October 2010
First Appellant Second Appellant
Nigel Pleming QC Edward Fitzgerald QC
Julian Knowles Joseph Middleton
(Instructed by Steel &
Shamash Solicitors)
(Instructed by Steel &
Shamash Solicitors)
Third Appellant Respondent
Nigel Pleming QC Lord Pannick QC
Rebecca Trowler Louis Mably
James Segan
(Instructed by Steel &
Shamash Solicitors)
(Instructed by Crown
Prosecution Service
Special Crime Division)
(written submissions)
Alun Jones QC
Rupert Bowers
(Instructed by Keystone
Law Limited)

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1. Each of the appellants has been committed for trial at the Crown Court on
charges of false accounting. I shall refer to them as “the defendants”. The charges
relate to claims in respect of parliamentary expenses and are alleged to have been
committed when each defendant was a serving member of the House of Commons.
A fourth defendant, Lord Hanningfield, who is a member of the House of Lords,
faces similar charges. Each defendant and Lord Hanningfield is facing a separate
trial but each of them has raised an important point of law. Each claims that
criminal proceedings cannot be brought against him because they infringe
parliamentary privilege. A single preparatory hearing pursuant to section 29 of the
Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996 was held to consider this point in
relation to all four defendants. On 11 June 2010 Saunders J, sitting in Southwark
Crown Court, ruled against the four defendants. All four appealed to the Court of
Appeal. On 30 July 2010 that court, Lord Judge CJ, Lord Neuberger MR and Sir
Anthony May, President of the Queen’s Bench Division, dismissed their appeal.
On 14 September 2010 the court certified that the appeal had raised a point of law
of general public importance, refused permission to appeal to this court and
granted a representation order for one leading counsel, one junior counsel and one
solicitor to represent the four defendants jointly in the event of an application to
this court for permission to appeal and any consequent appeal.
2. The defendants, but not Lord Hanningfield, sought permission to appeal.
Lord Hanningfield sought permission to intervene. Permission was granted to him
to intervene in writing for the limited purpose of drawing attention to any
distinction between expenses schemes and privileges in the two Houses of
Parliament. At the opening of the hearing the court granted permission to appeal.
3. On 10 November the court ordered that each of the three appeals be
dismissed, for reasons to be delivered in due course. These are my reasons.
The charges
4. Each of the defendants has been charged with false accounting contrary to
section 17(1)(b) of the Theft Act 1968, which provides in so far as material:
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“False accounting
(1) Where a person dishonestly, with a view to gain for himself or
another or with intent to cause loss to another,-
…(b) in furnishing information for any purpose produces or makes
use of any account, or any such record or document as aforesaid,
which to his knowledge is or may be misleading, false or deceptive
in a material particular;
he shall, on conviction on indictment, be liable to imprisonment for a
term not exceeding seven years.
(2) For purposes of this section a person who makes or concurs in
making in an account or other document an entry which is or may be
misleading, false or deceptive in a material particular, or who omits
or concurs in omitting a material particular from an account or other
document, is to be treated as falsifying the account or document. ”
5. Mr Morley is charged with making use of monthly expenses claim forms
for additional costs allowance which, initially, claimed as mortgage interest sums
which were in part repayments of capital and, latterly, made claims for repayment
of mortgage interest after the mortgage had been repaid.
6. Mr Chaytor is charged with making use of an expenses claim form for
incidental expenses provision in relation to two invoices relating to the supply of
IT services when no such services had been supplied. He is further charged with
making use of expenses claim forms for additional costs allowance in respect of
payments of monthly rent when such payments had never been made.
7. Mr Devine is charged with making use of expenses claim forms for
additional costs allowance and personal additional accommodation expenditure in
respect of invoices relating to cleaning and maintenance services when no such
services had been supplied. He is further charged with submitting expenses claim
forms in respect of communications allowance and supporting invoices in respect
of the supply of stationery when no such stationery had been supplied.
8. The claim forms which form the subject matter of all charges were
submitted to the Fees Office of the House of Commons. Form ACA2 in respect of
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additional costs allowance contains a declaration, signed by the Member in the
following form:
“I confirm that I incurred these costs wholly, exclusively and
necessarily to enable me to stay overnight away from my only or
main home for the purpose of performing my duties a Member of
The issues of fact in each case would seem to be whether the expenses claimed
were incurred and not the purpose for which they were incurred.
Entitlement to and administration of allowances
9. The entitlement of Members of Parliament to claim certain expenses dates
back to 1911, but the system under which the claims with which the present
appeals are concerned was introduced in 1971 and the circumstances in which such
allowances and expenses may be claimed are determined by Resolutions of the
House. On 29 January 2004 the House passed a Standing Order establishing the
House of Commons Members Estimate Committee (“the Estimate Committee”),
which is chaired by the Speaker. One of the functions of this Committee is to
report to the House from time to time on the provisions of the Resolutions of the
House relating to “expenditure charged to the Estimate for the House of
Commons: Members”, as codified and modified by the Committee. In effect the
House itself is responsible for the overall scheme of allowances and the Estimate
Committee is responsible for the detail.
10. The House of Commons (Administration) Act 1978 created the House of
Commons Commission (“the Commission”) consisting of the Speaker, the Leader
of the House, a Member nominated by the Leader of the Opposition and three
other Members, not being Ministers, appointed by the House. Under Schedule 1 to
this Act the Commission is a body corporate. The primary functions of the
Commission are to appoint the staff in the House Departments, to determine their
numbers, and to determine their remuneration and other terms and conditions of
service (section 2).
11. The various House Departments include the Department of Finance and
Administration. This is divided into three main offices. One of these is the Fees
Office. Until recently this performed the functions of receiving claim forms for
allowances and expenses, which might be submitted in person or by post,
considering the claims and making payments in relation to claims that appeared to
be properly made.
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The claim to privilege
12. The defendants contend that the Crown Court has no jurisdiction to try them
in respect of these charges on the ground that this would infringe parliamentary
privilege. This claim to privilege has two bases. The first is article 9 of the Bill of
Rights 1689 (“article 9”). This provides:
“That the Freedome of Speech and Debates or Proceedings in
Parlyament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any Court or
Place out of Parlyament.”
13. The defendants further rely on privilege that has its origin before 1689 and
which is wider than, and embraces, article 9. This has customarily been described
as the “exclusive cognisance of Parliament” but has also been described in
argument as “exclusive jurisdiction”. I shall use the former description.
Who decides the issue?
14. In the 17th and 18th centuries there was a dispute between the courts and the
House of Commons, often acrimonious, as to who was the final arbiter of the
scope of parliamentary privilege. This dispute was largely resolved in the course of
the 19th century. In Stockdale v Hansard (1839) 9 Ad & E 1 at pp 147- 148 Lord
Denman CJ said of the argument that the House of Commons was a separate Court
with exclusive jurisdiction over the extent of its privileges:
“Where the subject matter falls within their jurisdiction, no doubt we
cannot question their judgment; but we are now enquiring whether
the subject matter does fall within the jurisdiction of the House of
Commons. It is contended that they can bring it within their
jurisdiction by declaring it so. To this claim, as arising from their
privileges, I have already stated my answer: it is perfectly clear that
none of these Courts could give themselves jurisdiction by adjudging
that they enjoy it.”
15. It is now accepted in Parliament that the courts are not bound by any views
expressed by parliamentary committees, by the Speaker or by the House of
Commons itself as to the scope of parliamentary privilege. On 4 March 2010 the
Clerk of the Parliaments wrote to the solicitor acting for Lord Hanningfield a letter
that had received the approval of the Committee for Privileges. This stated:
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“Article 9 limits the application of parliamentary privilege to
‘proceedings in Parliament.’ The decision as to what constitutes a
‘proceeding in Parliament’, and therefore what is or is not admissible
as evidence, is ultimately a matter for the court, not the House.”
This statement was correct. It applies as much to the House of Commons as to the
House of Lords, and to an issue as to the scope of the exclusive cognisance of
Parliament as it does to an issue as to the application of article 9.
16. Although the extent of parliamentary privilege is ultimately a matter for the
court, it is one on which the court will pay careful regard to any views expressed in
Parliament by either House or by bodies or individuals in a position to speak on
the matter with authority. In Stockdale v Hansard at p 157 Lord Denman CJ
“The authority to which the Attorney General last appealed is one to
which particular attention is due: I mean the report of the committee
appointed by the late House of Commons to examine the subject”
albeit that the comments that he went on to make suggest that in the event the
report did not carry the weight that he had suggested that it deserved. Both
Saunders J and the Court of Appeal attached weight to views expressed or to be
implied within Parliament both as to the scope of parliamentary privilege in
general and as to whether such privilege attaches on the facts of these appeals.
The decision of Saunders J
17. Saunders J referred at para 19 to concessions made by the prosecution
which narrowed the issues. The first was that the scheme for the payment of
expenses as prescribed by resolution of the Houses of Parliament was covered by
privilege either under article 9 or as part of the “exclusive jurisdiction” of the
House. This meant that the High Court would have no power judicially to review
the scheme. The second was that the administration of the scheme by officials in
the Fees Office “under the supervision of a committee” was also covered by
parliamentary privilege. Saunders J expressed reservations about this concession,
but treated it as correctly made. The third was:
“While an instinctive reaction might be that, while honest claims are
covered by privilege, dishonest ones are not, the prosecution accept
that, if the submission of forms by an MP is covered by privilege
then dishonest claims are also covered. That is because, in order to
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prove dishonesty, the prosecution would have to question the
document, which is not permitted if it is covered by privilege.”
Saunders J held that he was satisfied that this concession was properly made. It is
not altogether easy to reconcile this with an earlier finding at para 18 that “in the
context of criminal charges parliamentary privilege should be narrowly construed”,
but I understand that what he meant was that, because it has the effect of ousting
criminal jurisdiction, parliamentary privilege should be narrowly construed.
18. At para 6 Saunders J also recorded an area of ground common to all, or
nearly all, counsel. Privilege did not attach to criminal conduct within the House
which was not connected to the activities of the House. Such conduct could be
described as “ordinary criminal conduct”. This covered such criminal offences as
an assault in the corridors of the House, theft of another Member’s money, or a
sexual offence, none of which related to parliamentary activity or proceedings in
19. Addressing the exclusive jurisdiction of Parliament, Saunders J held that the
submission of a claim form fell to be distinguished from the subsequent processing
of the form. Even if the latter was covered by privilege, the former was not.
Privilege covered actions which were part of the collective processes of
Parliament. Claiming expenses was not such an action. It was a voluntary
individual activity for the benefit of the individual and not of direct benefit to
20. So far as article 9 was concerned, Saunders J considered that this essentially
protected freedom of speech in Parliament. The protection extended to some
actions that were incidental to exercising that freedom of speech, making a claim
for expenses could not properly be said to be one of them. Accordingly the
privilege claimed was not made out.
The decision of the Court of Appeal
21. In the Court of Appeal the Crown withdrew its concession that the
administration of the allowances and expenses scheme by officials in the Fees
Office under the supervision of a committee was covered by parliamentary
privilege. At para 69 the Court of Appeal approached this withdrawal “with
caution”, commenting:
“The issue in these appeals is not whether the actions of officials in
allowing the defendants’ expenses claims is or may be privileged,
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but whether in submitting their claims, and making the allegedly
false statements contained in them to the officials, the defendants
were taking part in proceedings in Parliament, within the ambit of
article 9 and privilege, as explained in the relevant authorities.”
22. The Court of Appeal attached considerable weight to indications from
within Parliament that the defendants’ claims were not covered by privilege, to
which I shall return in due course, but went on to consider arguments advanced on
behalf of the defendants. At paras 74 and 75 the court rejected the submission that
making a statement to officials in the Fees Office could be equated with making a
statement to the House or to a parliamentary committee:
“A claim for expenses is not submitted to any other member of the
House, nor even to the Speaker or Lord Speaker or to his or her
office: it is submitted to an official in the Fees Office, and although
that official is appointed by and is an agent of the House, he is not
officiating in connection with the business carried on within the
Chamber or within a committee. He is merely carrying out an
administrative task, albeit one mandated by the relevant House, and
one subject to the detailed rules approved by that House.”
23. The Court of Appeal went on to develop the theme that claiming expenses
had nothing to do with the essential, or core, functions of a Member of Parliament.
In doing so, however, the court repeatedly considered this question in relation to
the presenting of dishonest claims for expenses:
“In truth, it is impossible to see how subjecting dishonest claims for
expenses to criminal investigation would offend against the rationale
for parliamentary privilege…” (para 76).
“It would therefore be curious if privilege were to apply to the
member who defrauded the Fees Office by submitting a false claim
for expenses…” (para 77).
“…the decision to set up, and the terms of the system could not be
subject to the court’s jurisdiction. Be that as it may, it does not then
follow that the dishonest operation of this system by individual
members is excluded from it” (para 78).
“on the basis that the implementation of the scheme might constitute
a proceeding in Parliament, it does not follow as a matter of logic,
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convenience or principle, that the dishonest actions by a member
when making his claim should be immune from criminal
prosecution” (para 78).
“It can confidently be stated that parliamentary privilege or
immunity from criminal prosecution has never ever attached to
ordinary criminal activities by members of Parliament” (para 81).
“The stark reality is that the defendants are alleged to have taken
advantage of the allowances scheme designed to enable them to
perform their important public duties as members of Parliament to
commit crimes of dishonesty to which parliamentary immunity or
privilege does not, has never, and, we believe, never would attach. If
the allegations are proved, and we emphasise, if they are proved,
then those against whom they are proved will have committed
ordinary crimes. Even stretching language to its limits we are unable
to envisage how dishonest claims by members of Parliament for their
expenses or allowances begin to involve the legislative or core
functions of the relevant House, or the proper performance of their
important public duties” (para 82).
24. Counsel for the defendants submitted that claiming expenses was part of a
scheme that was covered by privilege in that the payment of expenses was
necessary to enable, or for the purpose of enabling, Parliament to perform its core
or essential parliamentary business, to which article 9 related. This was the whole
object of the system of allowances. More particularly, counsel submitted that the
Court of Appeal had erred in principle in examining this issue on the premise that
the claims for expenses were dishonest. Privilege from criminal prosecution would
be nugatory if it did not apply to criminal conduct.
25. I consider that there was force in this criticism. The concept of an “ordinary
crime”, the origin of which I shall identify in due course, is only of value in the
present context where it describes an act which has no connection with the conduct
of parliamentary business, as counsel rightly agreed – see para 18 above. Making
claims for parliamentary allowances does not fall into this category. Such claims
form part of the business of Parliament, giving that phrase a broad meaning. The
issue is whether business of this nature amounts to proceedings in Parliament,
within the meaning of article 9, or is otherwise privileged from scrutiny in the
criminal courts because it falls within the exclusive cognisance or jurisdiction of
Parliament. It is not appropriate to approach that question on the premise that the
claims are dishonest.
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Article 9
26. I propose to start by considering article 9, because the issues in relation to
article 9 are relatively narrow and clear cut, compared to those that arise in relation
to the exclusive cognisance of Parliament.
27. Much of the jurisprudence in relation to article 9 relates to what constitutes
impeaching or questioning proceedings in Parliament – most notably Pepper v
Hart [1993] AC 593. The meaning of those words is not in issue in the present
case and so I shall not refer to authority dealing with that question. What is at issue
is the reach of the phrase “proceedings in Parliament”.
28. The Bill of Rights 1689 reflected the attitude of Parliament, after the
Restoration, to events in the reign of Charles I, and in particular the acceptance by
the Court of King’s Bench that parliamentary privilege did not protect against
seditious comments in the Chamber – R v Eliot, Holles and Valentine (1629) 3 St
Tr 293-336. The primary object of the article was unquestionably to protect
freedom of speech in the House of Commons. The question is, having regard to
that primary object, how far the term “proceedings in Parliament” extends to
actions that advance or are ancillary to proceedings in the Houses. Erskine May,
Parliamentary Practice, 23rd ed (2004), summarises the position as follows at pp
“The term ‘proceedings in Parliament’ has received judicial
attention, (not all of it in the United Kingdom) but comprehensive
lines of decision have not emerged and indeed it has been concluded
that an exhaustive definition could not be achieved. Nevertheless, a
broad description is not difficult to arrive at. The primary meaning of
proceedings, as a technical parliamentary term, which it had at least
as early as the seventeenth century, is some formal action, usually a
decision, taken by the House in its collective capacity. This is
naturally extended to the forms of business in which the House takes
action, and the whole process, the principal part of which is debate,
by which it reaches a decision. An individual Member takes part in a
proceeding usually by speech, but also by various recognized forms
of formal action, such as voting, giving notice of a motion, or
presenting a petition or report from a committee, most of such
actions being time-saving substitutes for speaking.”
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29. One of the problems when considering the scope of article 9 is that
decisions on parliamentary privilege frequently make no mention of the Bill of
Rights. That is true of Bradlaugh v Gossett (1884) 12 QBD 271. The plaintiff,
Bradlaugh, had been elected to the House of Commons. He required the Speaker to
call him to the table to take the oath and the Speaker declined to do so and the
House resolved that the Serjeant at Arms should exclude Bradlaugh from the
House. Bradlaugh then sought an injunction restraining the Serjeant at Arms from
complying with the resolution. The court refused the injunction. Lord Coleridge CJ
held, at p 275:
“What is said or done within the walls of Parliament cannot be
inquired into in a court of law…The jurisdiction of the Houses over
their own members, their right to impose discipline within their
walls, is absolute and exclusive.”
30. Stephen J was less categorical. He held, at p 278:
“I think that the House of Commons is not subject to the control of
Her Majesty’s Courts in its administration of that part of the statute
law which has relation to its own internal proceedings, and that the
use of such actual force as may be necessary to carry into effect such
a resolution as the one before us is justifiable”.
These statements do not distinguish between the narrow privilege under article 9
and the broader exclusive cognisance of Parliament. More pertinent are some
comments made by Stephen J as to what was not covered by privilege. At p 283 he
“The only force which comes in question in this case is such force as
any private man might employ to prevent a trespass on his own land.
I know of no authority for the proposition that an ordinary crime
committed in the House of Commons would be withdrawn from the
ordinary course of criminal justice.”
Stephen J pointed out at p 284 that, while Elliot established that nothing said in
Parliament by a member as such could be treated as an offence by the ordinary
courts, the House of Lords had carefully avoided deciding the question whether the
Court of King’s Bench could try a Member for an assault on the Speaker in the
House. His was a cogent statement of opinion that parliamentary privilege,
including that conferred by article 9, will not preclude a criminal prosecution in
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respect of the conduct of a Member merely because it has taken place within the
House of Commons.
31. While Pepper v Hart was concerned with the circumstances in which
reference could be made to proceedings in Parliament, Lord Browne-Wilkinson
made the following comment on the object of article 9, at p 638:
“Article 9 is a provision of the highest constitutional importance and
should not be narrowly construed. It ensures the ability of
democratically elected Members of Parliament to discuss what they
will (freedom of debate) and to say what they will (freedom of
speech)…In my judgment, the plain meaning of article 9, viewed
against the historical background in which it was enacted, was to
ensure that Members of Parliament were not subjected to any
penalty, civil or criminal, for what they said and were able, contrary
to the previous assertions of the Stuart monarchy, to discuss what
they, as opposed to the monarch, chose to have discussed.”
32. Lord Browne-Wilkinson made a similar observation when giving the
judgment of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in Prebble v Television
New Zealand Ltd [1995] 1 AC 321 at p 334. These observations are of limited
assistance when considering the extent to which article 9 applies to actions that are
incidental or in some way connected to proceedings on the floor of either House or
in parliamentary committee.
33. The suggestion that article 9 should not be narrowly construed conflicted
with an observation of Viscount Radcliffe when giving the advice of the Judicial
Committee of the Privy Council in Attorney General of Ceylon v de Livera [1963]
AC 103 at p 120. Section 14 of the Bribery Act of Ceylon made it an offence to
offer an inducement or reward to a member of the House of Representatives for
doing or forbearing to do any act “in his capacity as such member”. The issue was
the scope of those words. Viscount Radcliffe drew an analogy with article 9. He
“What has come under inquiry on several occasions is the extent of
the privilege of a member of the House and the complementary
question, what is a ‘proceeding in Parliament’? This is not the same
question as that now before the Board, and there is no doubt that the
proper meaning of the words ‘proceedings in Parliament’ is
influenced by the context in which they appear in article 9 of the Bill
of Rights (1 Wm & M, Sess 2, c 2); but the answer given to that
somewhat more limited question depends upon a very similar
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consideration, in what circumstances and in what situations is a
member of the House exercising his ‘real’ or ‘essential’ function as a
member? For, given the proper anxiety of the House to confine its
own or its members’ privileges to the minimum infringement of the
liberties of others, it is important to see that those privileges do not
cover activities that are not squarely within a member’s true
34. Alleged bribery of members in respect of their participation in the
proceedings on the floor of one of the Houses of Parliament or in committee has
raised the question of whether the connection between the act of bribery outside
Parliament and the undoubted “proceedings in Parliament” to which the bribe
relates renders the former subject to article 9 or similar privilege.
35. In Ex p Wason (1869) LR 4 QB 573 the issue was whether a prosecution
would lie against three persons, two of whom were members of the House of
Lords, for conspiring to deceive the House. The court held that it would not.
Cockburn CJ held at p 576:
“It is clear that statements made by members of either House of
Parliament in their places in the House, though they might be untrue
to their knowledge, could not be made the foundation of civil or
criminal proceedings, however injurious they might be to the interest
of a third person. And a conspiracy to make such statements would
not make the persons guilty of it amenable to the criminal law.”
Blackburn and Lush JJ agreed. Lush J ended his short judgment with the following
“I am clearly of opinion that we ought not to allow it to be doubted for
a moment that the motives or intentions of members of either House
cannot be inquired into by criminal proceedings with respect to
anything they may do or say in the House.”
36. It is not clear whether the reasoning of the court was that the act of
conspiring was itself subject to privilege or that, as the object of the conspiracy
was not an indictable offence, no indictment could lie for the conspiracy itself.
37. Ex p Wason was distinguished by the Supreme Court of Ontario in R v
Bunting (1885) 7 OR 524, where it was held that a conspiracy to bring about a
change in the Government of Ontario by bribing members of the Legislative
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Assembly to vote against the Government was an indictable offence at common
law committed at the time of the conspiracy itself and within the jurisdiction of the
ordinary courts.
38. Ex p Wason has also been cited by the Supreme Court of the United States
in the context of considering the ambit of the “Speech or Debate” clause in article
1, section 6 of the Constitution. This provides that “for any speech or debate” in
either House, Senators or Representatives “shall not be questioned in any other
place” – see United States v Johnson (1966) 383 US 169 and United States v
Brewster (1972) 408 US 501. Each case involved an allegation of bribery to
purchase support in proceedings in the House. In the latter case Burger CJ gave the
opinion of the court. At p 518 he commented:
“The very fact of the supremacy of Parliament as England’s highest
tribunal explains the long tradition precluding trial for official
misconduct of a member in any other and lesser tribunal.”
This is not an accurate summary either of parliamentary privilege in this
jurisdiction or of the reason for it, but the issue of interpretation facing the
Supreme Court mirrors that raised by article 9 and some of the reasoning in
Brewster is relevant to consideration of the scope of that article.
39. At p 524 Burger CJ commented:
“As we noted at the outset, the purpose of the Speech or Debate
Clause is to protect the individual legislator, not simply for his own
sake, but to preserve the independence and thereby the integrity of
the legislative process. But financial abuses by way of bribes,
perhaps even more than Executive power, would gravely undermine
legislative integrity and defeat the right of the public to honest
representation. Depriving the Executive of the power to investigate
and prosecute and the Judiciary of the power to punish bribery of
Members of Congress is unlikely to enhance legislative
40. Burger CJ went on to hold that prosecution for bribery did not infringe the
Speech and Debate clause because there was no need to show that the defendant in
fact fulfilled the alleged illegal bargain. It was the acceptance of the bribe that
constituted the offence. Brennan J, with whom Douglas J joined, delivered a
powerful dissent. He held that one count actually charged that the defendant
committed the act for which the bribe was paid, so that the defendant’s conduct in
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the House would have to be investigated. Other counts, which merely charged
receipt of the bribe, put in question the defendant’s motive for the legislative acts
which followed, even if those acts did not have to be considered by the court.
41. Similar reasoning to that of Brennan J led the Supreme Court of India to
hold that Members of Parliament were protected by privilege from prosecution for
bribery in respect of voting in parliamentary proceedings: Rao v State (1998) 1
SCJ 529.
42. In 1992 a prosecution was brought against a Member of Parliament, Mr
Harry Greenway, for the common law offence of bribery to use his position as a
Member of Parliament to further the interests of a company in his constituency. He
applied to have the indictment quashed on the ground, inter alia, that the
prosecution was precluded by parliamentary privilege. Buckley J dismissed the
application [1998] PL 357. He referred with approval to comments of Lord
Salmon in debate in the House of Lords (Hansard (HL Debates), 6 December
1976, col 631). Lord Salmon had chaired a Royal Commission on Standards of
Conduct in Public Life and the debate was on its Report, Cmnd 6524 (1976). The
passages cited by Buckley J were:
“To my mind equality before the law is one of the pillars of freedom.
To say that immunity from criminal proceedings against anyone who
tries to bribe a Member of Parliament and any Member of Parliament
who accepts the bribe, stems from the Bill of Rights is possibly a
serious mistake.”
“Now this [the Bill of Rights] is a charter for freedom of speech in
the House. It is not a charter for corruption. To my mind, the Bill of
Rights, for which no one has more respect than I have, has no more
to do with the topic which we are discussing than the Merchandise
Marks Act. The crime of corruption is complete when the bribe is
offered or given or solicited and taken.”
43. Buckley J made the following comments (pp 361-362,363):
“It is important to note that which Lord Salmon pointed out, namely,
that corruption is complete when the bribe is offered or given,
solicited or [sic] taken. If, as is alleged here, a bribe is given and
taken by a member of Parliament, to use his position dishonestly,
that is to favour the briber as opposed to acting independently and on
the merits, the crime is complete. It owes nothing to any speech,
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debate or proceedings in Parliament. Proof of the element of
corruption in the transaction is another and quite separate
consideration. Privilege might well prevent any inquiry by a court
into Parliamentary debates or proceedings. However, it is not a
necessary ingredient of the crime that the bribe worked. A jury will
usually be asked to infer corruption from the nature of and
circumstances in which the gift was given. I cannot see that article 9
in any way prevents that…
That a Member of Parliament against whom there is a prima facie
case of corruption should be immune from prosecution in the courts
of law is to my mind an unacceptable proposition at the present time.
I do not believe it to be the law. The Committee of Privileges is not
well equipped to conduct an enquiry into such a case, nor is it an
appropriate or experienced body to pass sentence. Unless it is to be
assumed that it would be prejudiced in his favour, I cannot see that it
would be in the Member’s own interest for the matter to be dealt
with by the Committee. The courts and legislature have over the
years built up a formidable body of law and codes of practice to
achieve fair treatment of suspects and persons ultimately charged
and brought to trial. Again, unless it is to be assumed that his peers
would lean in his favour, why should a Member be deprived of a jury
and an experienced judge to consider his guilt or innocence and, if
appropriate, sentence? Why should the public be similarly
44. These decisions in relation to bribery lend support for a narrow construction
of article 9. If Greenway was rightly decided it leads inexorably to the conclusion
that submitting claims for expenses falls outside the definition of “proceedings in
Parliament” in article 9. The nexus between bribes intended to influence what is
said and proceedings in the House is much closer than the link between submitting
a claim for expenses and taking part in such proceedings. Indeed, it is the closeness
of the former nexus that raises a question as to whether Greenway was correctly
decided. The dissent in Brewster is food for thought. Accusing a Member of
Parliament of taking bribes in exchange for statements to be made in the House
will necessarily raise an inference that any statements that were subsequently made
were corruptly motivated, even if this forms no part of the criminal inquiry.
45. The same point can, however, be made where a Member of Parliament
affirms outside the House a statement made in the House. Such an affirmation can
found a claim in defamation. This may well involve a challenge to the good faith
of the defendant in affirming the statement, which will inferentially challenge his
good faith in making the original statement. Lord Bingham dealt with this point
when giving the advice of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in
Page 17
Buchanan v Jennings (Attorney General of New Zealand intervening) [2005] 1 AC
115, at para 13:
“It is common ground in this appeal that statements made outside
Parliament are not protected by absolute privilege even if they
simply repeat what was said therein. That proposition, established by
R v Abingdon (1794) 1 Esp 226 and R v Creevey (1813) 1 M & S 273
was more recently applied by the High Court of Ontario in Stopforth
v Goyer (1978) 87 DLR (3d) 373 and the Supreme Court of the
United States in Hutchinson v Proxmire (1979) 443 US 111, 126 et
seq. In such a case there will inevitably be an inquiry at the trial into
the honesty of what the defendant had said, and if the defendant’s
extra-parliamentary statement is found to have been untrue or
dishonest the same conclusion would ordinarily, although not
always, apply to the parliamentary statement also. But such an
inquiry and such a conclusion are not precluded by article 9, because
the plaintiff is founding his claim on the extra-parliamentary
publication and not the parliamentary publication.”
46. Lord Bingham went on to hold that it made no difference that, in that case,
the repetition of what had been said in Parliament was merely by reference. At
para 17 Lord Bingham tested this conclusion for compliance with the principle
underlying the absolute privilege accorded to parliamentary statements, namely the
right of Members of Parliament to speak their minds in Parliament without any
risk of incurring liability as a result. He concluded that liability for repeating
outside Parliament what had been said within did not conflict with this principle.
47. The jurisprudence to which I have referred is sparse and does not bear
directly on the facts of these appeals. It supports the proposition, however, that the
principal matter to which article 9 is directed is freedom of speech and debate in
the Houses of Parliament and in parliamentary committees. This is where the core
or essential business of Parliament takes place. In considering whether actions
outside the Houses and committees fall within parliamentary proceedings because
of their connection to them, it is necessary to consider the nature of that connection
and whether, if such actions do not enjoy privilege, this is likely to impact
adversely on the core or essential business of Parliament.
48. If this approach is adopted, the submission of claim forms for allowances
and expenses does not qualify for the protection of privilege. Scrutiny of claims by
the courts will have no adverse impact on the core or essential business of
Parliament, it will not inhibit debate or freedom of speech. Indeed it will not
inhibit any of the varied activities in which Members of Parliament indulge that
Page 18
bear in one way or another on their parliamentary duties. The only thing that it will
inhibit is the making of dishonest claims.
49. Some reliance was placed by the defendants on the terms of section 13 of
the Defamation Act 1996, which are as follows:
“13.- Evidence concerning proceedings in Parliament
(1) Where the conduct of a person in or in relation to
proceedings in Parliament is in issue in defamation
proceedings, he may waive for the purposes of those
proceedings, so far as concerns him, the protection of
any enactment or rule of law which prevents
proceedings in Parliament being impeached or
questioned in any court or place out of Parliament.
(2) Where a person waives that protection-
(a) any such enactment or rule of law shall not
apply to prevent evidence being given,
questions being asked or statements,
submissions, comments or findings being made
about his conduct, and
(b) none of those things shall be regarded as
infringing the privilege of either House of
(3) The waiver by one person of that protection does
not affect its operation in relation to another person
who has not waived it.
(4) Nothing in this section affects any enactment or
rule of law so far as it protects a person (including a
person who has waived the protection referred to
above) from legal liability for words spoken or things
done in the course of, or for the purposes of or
incidental to, any proceedings in Parliament.
Page 19
(5) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection
(4), that subsection applies to –
(a) the giving of evidence before either House
or a committee;
(b) the presentation or submission of a
document to either House or a committee;
(c) the preparation of a document for the
purposes of or incidental to the transacting of
any such business;
(d) the formulation, making or publication of a
document, including a report, by or pursuant to
an order to either House or a committee; and
(e) any communication with the Parliamentary
Commissioner for Standards or any person
having functions in connection with the
registration of members’ interests.
In this subsection ‘a committee’ means a committee of
either House or a joint committee of both Houses of
50. Reliance was placed on the reference in subsection (4) to protection from
legal liability for words spoken or things done “for the purposes of or incidental to,
any proceedings in Parliament” and in subsection (5)(b) to “the presentation or
submission of a document to either House or a committee”. I do not consider that
these provisions advance the defendants’ case. Section 13 is not capable of
extending the ambit of article 9. Subsection (4) cannot found a submission that any
words spoken or things done that are incidental to proceedings in Parliament have
automatically to be treated as part of those proceedings. The reference to
submission of a document to either House or a committee envisages the
submission of documents for the purpose of the deliberations of the House or
committee in question. No comparison can be drawn between this and the
presentation of claims for allowances or expenses to the Fees Office.
Page 20
The views of Parliament
51. I now turn to views expressed in Parliament as to the ambit of article 9.
Once again it is not always easy to differentiate between comments that bear on
this narrow privilege as opposed to the broader exclusive cognisance of
52. The report of the Select Committee on the Official Secrets Acts 1938-1939
(“the 1939 Report”) included the following:
“2. The privilege to which Your Committee were directed by the
order of reference to have due regard is that usually referred to as the
privilege of freedom of speech. This privilege is declared by the Bill
of Rights in the following terms:- ‘That the freedom of speech and
debates or proceedings in parliament ought not to be impeached or
questioned in any court or place out of parliament.’
3. The article in the Bill of Rights is not necessarily an exhaustive
definition of the cognate privileges. But even assuming that it is, the
privilege is not confined to words spoken in debate or to spoken
words, but extends to all proceedings in parliament. While the term
‘proceedings in parliament’ has never been construed by the courts,
it covers both the asking of a question and the giving written notice
of such question, and includes everything said or done by a member
in the exercise of his functions as a member in a committee of either
House, as well as everything said or done in either House in the
transaction of parliamentary business.
4. The privilege of freedom of speech being confined to words
spoken or things done in the course of parliamentary proceedings,
words spoken or things done by a member beyond the walls of
parliament will generally not be protected. Cases may, however,
easily be imagined of communications between one member and
another, or between a member and a minister, so closely related to
some matter pending in, or expected to be brought before, the House,
that though they do not take place in the chamber or a committee
room they form part of the business of the House, as, for example,
where a member sends to a minister the draft of a question he is
thinking of putting down or shows it to another member with a view
to obtaining advice as to the propriety of putting it down or as to the
manner in which it should be framed.”
Page 21
It is noteworthy that the Committee envisaged the need for a close relationship of
communications outside the House to business within it in order to attract
privilege. The conclusion of the Committee was later agreed by the House – CJ
(1938-39) 480.
53. The Joint Committee on the Publication of Proceedings in Parliament in its
Second Report in 1970 HL 109, HC 261 recommended that “proceedings in
Parliament” should be defined by statute, and offered the following definition at
para 27:
“(1) For the purpose of the defence of absolute privilege in an action
or prosecution for defamation the expression ‘proceedings in
Parliament’ shall without prejudice to the generality thereof include
a) all things said done or written by a Member or
by any officer of either House of Parliament or by any
person ordered or authorised to attend before such
House, in or in the presence of such House and in the
course of a sitting of such House, and for the purpose
of the business being or about to be transacted,
wherever such sitting may be held and whether or not
it be held in the presence of strangers to such House:
provided that for the purpose aforesaid the expression
‘House’ shall be deemed to include any Committee
sub-Committee or other group or body of members or
members and officers of either House of Parliament
appointed by or with the authority of such House for
the purpose of carrying out any of the functions of or
of representing such House; and
b) all things said done or written between Members
or between Members and officers of either House of
Parliament or between Members and Ministers of the
Crown for the purpose of enabling any Member or any
such officer to carry out his functions as such provided
that publication thereof be no wider than is reasonably
necessary for that purpose.
(2) In this section ‘Member’ means a Member of either House of
Parliament; and ‘officer of either House of Parliament’ means any
person not being a Member whose duties require him from time to
time to participate in proceedings in Parliament as herein defined.”
Page 22
No effect was given to this recommendation.
54. The Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege Report of 1999 HL 43-1;
HC214-1 (“the 1999 Report”) gave detailed consideration to article 9. At para 12 it
“Freedom of speech is central to Parliament’s role. Members must be
able to speak and criticise without fear of penalty. This is
fundamental to the effective working of Parliament, and is achieved
by the primary parliamentary privilege: the absolute protection of
‘proceedings in Parliament’ guaranteed by article 9 of the Bill of
Rights 1689. Members are not exposed to any civil or criminal
liabilities in respect of what they say or do in the course of
proceedings in Parliament. There is no comprehensive definition of
the term proceedings in Parliament, although it has often been
recommended there should be. Proceedings are broadly interpreted
to mean what is said or done in the formal proceedings of either
House or the committees of either House together with
conversations, letters and other documentation directly connected
with those proceedings.”
55. At para 103 the Committee expressed the view that Members’
correspondence did not form part of parliamentary proceedings:
“Article 9 protects parliamentary proceedings: activities which are
recognisably part of the formal collegiate activities of Parliament.”
The Committee did not recommend the extension of parliamentary privilege to
cover Members’ correspondence. It commented at para 110:
“There is another consideration. Article 9 provides an altogether
exceptional degree of protection, as discussed above. In principle
this exceptional protection should remain confined to the core
activities of Parliament, unless a pressing need is shown for an
56. Each House has agreed a set of rules and guidance governing the conduct
expected of its members. The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards is
appointed to monitor the operation of the Code of Conduct of Members of the
House of Commons and to advise the Committee on Standards and Privileges on
the interpretation of the code. In 15 December 2002 the Mail on Sunday published
Page 23
an article alleging that Mr Michael Trend MP had improperly submitted claims in
respect of additional costs allowance in respect of a London home which he did
not occupy. The Commissioner for Standards submitted a memorandum on the
matter which concluded that Mr Trend had claimed additional costs allowance in
breach of the rules relating to that allowance. In a post script under the heading
“The Criminal Law” he commented:
“The decision whether Mr Trend or any other Member who may be
shown to have wrongly claimed parliamentary allowances should
face a criminal prosecution is one for the police and prosecuting
authorities, not for me. As the briefing note on the law on obtaining
by deception at Annex C makes clear, there are a number of
ingredients to the offence which would have to be proved if a
prosecution were to succeed; achieving this would not necessarily be
easy. However, the point that needs to be made here is that claiming
an allowance is not a proceeding in Parliament and the provisions of
parliamentary privilege do not apply. Members of Parliament are no
less subject to the criminal law in this respect than anyone else. They
must have its provisions in mind at all times like anyone else, and
decisions about whether it should be invoked against them must be
taken applying the same tests as would be applied to any other
57. On 8 February 2010 the Speaker made a statement to the House about the
application of the sub judice rule in relation to the prosecutions of the three
defendants, in the following terms.
“I wish to make a statement to the House about the application of the
sub judice rule.
Once criminal proceedings are active by a charge having been made,
cases before the courts shall not be referred to in any motion, debate
or question. The House will be aware that charges have been made
against three Members of the House and that therefore the sub judice
rule applies to their cases. The matter is therefore before the courts,
and the House and Members would not wish to interfere with the
judicial process, risk affecting the fairness of a criminal trial or,
furthermore, prevent such a trial taking place.”
The last sentence does not suggest that the Speaker had any concern that the trials
of the defendants might constitute a breach of the privilege enjoyed by Parliament.
Page 24
58. It is possible that the Speaker had already received orally the advice of the
Clerk of the House that was conveyed to him in writing on the following day. This
included the following paragraph:
“In order to make the case that privilege applies to claims it would
be necessary to establish that they are indeed transactions of business
of the House or one of its Committees. Although I accept that the
ACA scheme arises from Resolutions of the House, the proposition
that all actions or claims under it are proceedings, seems to me to be
unsustainable. The House agrees to many things by Resolution – for
example to build a new building – but that does not mean that all
activities in connection with its erection are “proceedings”.
Proceedings must imply, in the words of the Joint Committee on
Parliamentary Privilege, “formal collegiate activities of Parliament”
– rather than merely the consequences of decisions that either House
has taken. It also seems to me to be pertinent to the consideration of
claims under the ACA scheme being protected that throughout the
House’s involvement in Freedom of Information cases in respect of
publication of claims and expenses, the House has never sought an
exemption under section 34 of the Act which covers matters deemed
to infringe parliamentary privilege.”
59. None of these expressions of Parliamentary views lends support to the
suggestion that submitting claims for allowances and expenses constitutes
proceedings in Parliament for the purposes of article 9. On the contrary they all
suggest, either expressly or by implication, that the submission of such claims falls
outside the protection of that article. The recovery of allowances and expenses to
defray the costs involved in attending Parliament, or travelling on Parliamentary
business, has no closer nexus with proceedings in Parliament than incurring those
60. The question was asked rhetorically of what the position would be if
Members had to go before the Estimate Committee, or even the House, to ask for
their expenses. It was submitted on behalf of the defendants that in that event their
claims would constitute proceedings in Parliament and be protected by privilege,
and that the same was true of claims made to the Fees Office as that office was
acting on behalf of the House in receiving and considering the claim forms. The
answer is that the submission and consideration of allowances and expenses claims
is essentially a matter of administration, properly to be performed by officials, and
that it would be absurd for this exercise to be performed by a committee or by the
Page 25
61. There are good reasons of policy for giving article 9 a narrow ambit that
restricts it to the important purpose for which it was enacted – freedom for
Parliament to conduct its legislative and deliberative business without interference
from the Crown or the Crown’s judges. The protection of article 9 is absolute. It is
capable of variation by primary legislation, but not capable of waiver, even by
Parliamentary resolution. Its effect where it applies is to prevent those injured by
civil wrongdoing from obtaining redress and to prevent the prosecution of
Members for conduct which is criminal. As to the latter, Parliament has no
criminal jurisdiction. It has limited penal powers to treat criminal conduct as
contempt. These once included imprisonment for a limited period. As to this Lord
Denman CJ commented at p 114 in Stockdale v Hansard:
“The privilege of committing for contempt is inherent in every
deliberative body invested with authority by the Constitution. But,
however flagrant the contempt, the House of Commons can only
commit till the close of the existing session. Their privilege to
commit is not better known than this limitation of it. Though the
party should deserve the severest penalties, yet, his offences being
committed the day before a prorogation, if the House ordered his
imprisonment but for a week, every Court in Westminster Hall and
every Judge of all the Courts would be bound to discharge him by
habeas corpus.”
Imprisonment has not been imposed in recent times and the same is true of the
theoretical power to fine. Nor is it clear that Parliament is in a position to satisfy
all the requirements of article 6 which apply when imposing penal sanctions – see
Demicoli v Malta (1991) 14 EHRR 47.
62. Thus precedent, the views of Parliament and policy all point in the same
direction. Submitting claims for allowances and expenses does not form part of,
nor is it incidental to, the core or essential business of Parliament, which consists
of collective deliberation and decision making. The submission of claims is an
activity which is an incident of the administration of Parliament; it is not part of
the proceedings in Parliament. I am satisfied that Saunders J and the Court of
Appeal were right to reject the defendants’ reliance on article 9.
Exclusive cognisance
63. This phrase describes areas where the courts have ruled that any issues
should be left to be resolved by Parliament rather than determined judicially.
Exclusive cognisance refers not simply to Parliament, but to the exclusive right of
each House to manage its own affairs without interference from the other or from
Page 26
outside Parliament. The boundaries of exclusive cognisance result from accord
between the two Houses and the courts as to what falls within the exclusive
province of the former. Unlike the absolute privilege imposed by article 9,
exclusive cognisance can be waived or relinquished by Parliament. Thus in 1980
Parliament agreed to a resolution which permitted reference to be made in court to
certain Parliamentary papers which, up to then, had been subject to a claim of
exclusive cognisance – see Erskine May at p 105. The areas subject to exclusive
cognisance have very significantly changed, in part as a result of primary
64. The exclusive cognisance of Parliament was originally based on the premise
that the High Court of Parliament had its own peculiar law which was not known
to the courts. The 17th edition (1814) of Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws
of England observed at pp 158-159:
“It will be sufficient to observe, that the whole of the law and custom
of parliament has its original from this one maxim; ‘that whatever
matter arises concerning either house of parliament, ought to be
examined, discussed, and adjudged in that house to which it relates
and not elsewhere’.”
65. In Stockdale v Hansard at p 118 Denman CJ said of all internal proceedings
of the House of Commons:
“With respect to them, I freely admit that the Courts have no right to
interfere, nor, perhaps, any regular means of obtaining information.”
66. I have already cited at paras 29 and 30 passages from the judgments of Lord
Coleridge CJ and Stephen J in Bradlaugh v Gossett which are relevant in the
present context.
67. It is, of course, always open to Parliament by legislation to provide for the
courts to encroach on matters falling within its exclusive cognisance, or even on
article 9 privilege, as did the Parliamentary Elections Act 1695, the Parliamentary
Oaths Act 1866, the Perjury Act 1911, and the Defamation Act 1996 – see Erskine
May at p 115. These statutes expressly address matters that were previously
subject to privilege under article 9, or the exclusive cognisance of Parliament.
68. Where a statute does not specifically address matters that are subject to
privilege, it is in theory necessary as a matter of statutory interpretation to decide a
number of overlapping questions. Does the statute apply within the precincts of the
Page 27
Palace of Westminster? If it does, does it apply in areas that were previously
within the exclusive cognisance of Parliament? If so, does the statute override the
privilege imposed by article 9? In practice there are not many examples of these
questions being considered, either within Parliament or by the courts. If Parliament
accepts that a statute applies within an area that previously fell within its exclusive
cognisance, then Parliament will, in effect, have waived any claim to privilege.
69. The 1939 Report is an example of Parliament considering whether privilege
was overridden by statute. In two cases the courts considered the application of the
Licensing Acts within the precincts of the Palace of Westminster. In Williamson v
Norris [1899] 1 QB 7 Lord Russell of Killowen CJ considered a submission that
the Houses of Parliament, in the regulation of their internal arrangements as to the
sale of liquor, were entirely outside the control of the law as to licensing. He stated
that he was very far from being satisfied that this proposition was correct, but
decided the case on another point.
70. In R v Graham-Campbell, Ex p Herbert [1935] 1 KB 594 Mr A P Herbert
had laid two informations at Bow Street Police Station for summonses against
fifteen named Members of Parliament, who were members of the Kitchen
Committee of the House of Commons and the manager of the Refreshment
Department of the House alleging the unlawful sale of alcohol without a licence
contrary to the Licensing (Consolidation) Act 1910. The Chief Metropolitan
Magistrate held that the Members of Parliament were not susceptible to the
jurisdiction of the court because they were protected by the privileges of the
House. On application for orders in the nature of mandamus, Lord Hewart CJ
upheld the decision and the reasoning of the magistrate. Only as an afterthought
did he express the view that the majority of the provisions of the 1910 Act were
inapplicable to the House of Commons. Avory and Swift JJ agreed, albeit that
Avory J devoted most of his judgment to the question of whether the Act on its
true construction applied to the House of Commons.
71. The Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege Report HL paper 43-1, HC
214-1 (1998-99) (“the 1999 Report”) states at para 15 that since this case Acts of
Parliament have been taken not to apply within the precincts of either House in the
absence of express provision that they should apply and that the legislation that has
been taken not to apply includes the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and
the Data Protection Acts 1984 and 1998 but that in practice Parliament voluntarily
abides by some of these statutory provisions.
72. The 1999 Report returns to this topic under the heading “Right of each
House to administer its internal affairs within its precincts”. It comments at para
240 that each House has the right to administer its internal affairs within the
parliamentary precincts. It continues at para 241:
Page 28
“In one important respect this heading of privilege is unsatisfactory.
‘Internal affairs’ and equivalent phrases are loose and potentially
extremely wide in their scope. On one interpretation they embrace, at
one edge of the spectrum, the arrangement of parliamentary business
and also, at the other extreme, the provision of basic supplies and
services such as stationery and cleaning. This latter extreme would
be going too far if it were to mean, for example, that a dispute over
the supply of photocopy paper or dismissal of a cleaner could not be
decided by a court or industrial tribunal in the ordinary way. Here, as
elsewhere the purpose of parliamentary privilege is to ensure that
Parliament can discharge its functions as a legislative and
deliberative assembly without let or hindrance. This heading of
privilege best serves Parliament if not carried to extreme lengths.”
73. A little later the Report considers the dividing line between matters that fall
within this type of parliamentary privilege and those which fall outside it. This lies
at the heart of these appeals and merits quotation in full:
“246 Putting aside the activities of individuals, there is a need to
distinguish between activities of the House which call for protection
under this head of privilege and those which do not. The Palace of
Westminster is a large building; it requires considerable
maintenance; it provides an extensive range of services for members;
it employs and caters for a large number of staff and visitors. These
services require staff and supplies and contractors. For the most part,
and rightly so, these services are not treated as protected by
privilege. It is difficult to see any good reason why claims for breach
of contract relating to catering or building services, for example,
should be excluded from the jurisdiction of the courts, or why a
person who sustains personal injury within the precincts of
Parliament should not be able to mount a claim for damages for
negligence. This has been formally recognised in the Parliamentary
Corporate Bodies Act 1992. Under this Act each House established a
corporate officer who can sign contracts on behalf of the House and
sue or be sued.
247 The dividing line between privileged and non-privileged
activities of each House is not easy to define. Perhaps the nearest
approach to a definition is that the areas in which the courts ought
not to intervene extend beyond proceedings in Parliament, but the
privileged areas must be so closely and directly connected with
proceedings in Parliament that intervention by the courts would be
inconsistent with Parliament’s sovereignty as a legislative and
deliberative assembly. One example is the Speaker’s decision on
Page 29
which facilities within the precincts of the House should be available
to members who refuse to take the oath or affirmation of allegiance.
Another example might be steps taken by the library of either House
to keep members informed upon matters of significant political
interest. Such steps, if authorised by the presiding officer of the
House, would properly be within the scope of the principle and not
amenable to orders of the court.
248 It follows that management functions relating to the provision
of services in either House are only exceptionally subject to
privilege. In particular, the activities of the House of Commons
Commission, a statutory body appointed under the House of
Commons (Administration) Act 1978, are not generally subject to
privilege, nor are the management and administration of the House
departments. The boundary is not tidy. Occasionally management in
both Houses may deal with matters directly related to proceedings
which come within the scope of article 9. For example, the members’
pension fund of the House of Commons is regulated partly by
resolutions of the House. So too are members’ salaries and the
appointment of additional members of the House of Commons
Commission under section 1(2)(d) of the House of Commons
(Administration) Act. These resolutions and orders are proceedings
in Parliament, but their implementation is not.”
74. The foundation of the modern system of administration of the House of
Commons is the House of Commons (Administration) Act. This established the
Commission and gave it corporate status, so that it is capable of suing and being
sued. In 1992 each House took full responsibility for managing its own internal
administration, which included responsibility for the maintenance of the structure
of the Palace of Westminster – see Erskine May p 233. In that year, as the 1999
Report explains, the Parliamentary Corporate Bodies Act was passed – a necessary
practical step to facilitate the bringing of actions in contract and tort arising out of
the internal administration of the House. This has rendered easier, and implicitly
contemplates, inroads into areas that previously fell within the exclusive
cognisance of the House. Statutory inroads have been made by express provisions
of the Employment Act 1990, the Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights
Act 1993 and the Employment Rights Act 1996 – see Erskine May at pp 115 to
75. So far as actions in contract and tort are concerned arising out of the
internal administration of the House the courts are unlikely to accept the
submission, in the unlikely event that it is advanced, that their jurisdiction is
precluded because of the exclusive cognisance of the House. The reasoning of
Page 30
Judge Russell, sitting in the Industrial Court in Bear v State of South Australia
(1981) 48 SAIR 604 is likely to be followed.
76. Different considerations apply to claims for judicial review in relation to the
conduct by each House of its internal affairs. The courts will respect the right of
each House to reach its own decision in relation to the conduct of its affairs. Two
examples will illustrate this. In Re McGuinness’s Application [1997] NI 359 the
applicant sought to challenge by judicial review the decision of the Speaker that
those who had not complied with the requirements of the Parliamentary Oaths Act
1866 would be denied certain of the facilities of the House. Kerr J dismissed his
application. He held at p 6 :
“I am quite satisfied that, whether it qualifies as a proceeding in
Parliament or not, the Speaker’s action lies squarely within the realm
of internal arrangements of the House of Commons and is not
amenable to judicial review.”
77. In R v Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Ex p Al Fayed [1998] 1
WLR 669 the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards had published a report
relating to a complaint by the applicant against a Member of Parliament. The
applicant sought permission to challenge this by judicial review. The application
was refused by Sedley J and renewed before the Court of Appeal. Lord Woolf MR
gave a judgment with which the other members of the court agreed dismissing the
application. He said, at p 673:
“The focus of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards is on
the propriety of the workings and the activities of those engaged
within Parliament. He is one of the means by which the select
committee set up by the House carries out its functions, which are
accepted to be part of the proceedings of the House. This being the
role of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, it would be
inappropriate for this court to use its supervisory powers to control
what the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards does in relation
to an investigation of this sort. The responsibility for supervising the
Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards is placed by Parliament,
through its standing orders, on the Committee of Standards and
Privileges of the House, and it is for that body to perform that role
and not the courts.”
78. In summary, extensive inroads have been made into areas that previously
fell within the exclusive cognisance of Parliament. Following Ex p Herbert there
appears to have been a presumption in Parliament that statutes do not apply to
Page 31
activities within the Palace of Westminster unless they expressly provide to the
contrary. That presumption is open to question. In 1984 three Law Lords, Lord
Diplock, Lord Scarman and Lord Bridge of Harwich, on the Committee for
Privileges expressed the view that sections 2-6 of the Mental Health Act 1983
applied to members of the House of Lords, although the Act did not expressly so
Crime and Parliament
79. I have considered the encroachment by the laws of contract and tort on
areas that previously fell within the exclusive cognisance of Parliament and
pointed out the distinction that must be drawn between such claims and
applications for judicial review. I now come to consider the position where an act
is committed which, absent any question of parliamentary privilege, would
constitute a crime falling within the jurisdiction of the criminal courts.
80. Parliament has never challenged, in general, the application of criminal law
within the precincts of Parliament and has accepted that the mere fact that a crime
has been committed within these precincts is no bar to the jurisdiction of the
criminal courts. In May 1812 John Bellingham was indicted, tried and convicted of
the murder of the Prime Minister, Spencer Percival, at the entrance to the lobby of
the House of Commons. Bellingham was not a Member of Parliament, but it would
have made no difference had he been.
81. Where a crime is committed within the House of Commons, this may well
also constitute a contempt of Parliament. The courts and Parliament have different,
overlapping, jurisdictions. The House can take disciplinary proceedings for
contempt and a court can try the offender for the crime. Where a prosecution is
brought Parliament will suspend any disciplinary proceedings. Conversely, if a
Member of Parliament were disciplined by the House, consideration would be
given by the Crown Prosecution Service as to whether a prosecution would be in
the public interest. In 1988 Mr Ron Brown MP damaged the mace in the course of
a heated debate and declined to apologise. The House exercised its penal powers in
relation to both the damage to the mace and the lack of respect for the authority of
the Chair. The Director of Public Prosecutions subsequently halted an attempt to
bring a private prosecution.
82. Erskine May records at pp 162-163 that in cases of breach of privilege
which are also offences at law, where the punishment which the Commons has
power to inflict would not be adequate to the offence, or where for any other
reason the House has thought proceeding at law necessary, either as a substitute
for, or in addition to, its own proceedings, the Attorney General has been directed
Page 32
to prosecute the offender. It is of note that in two of the cases cited the Attorney
General was directed to prosecute witnesses to parliamentary committees for
“wilful and corrupt perjury” – CJ (1860) 258 and CJ (1866) 239. No instance is
cited beyond the 19th century and a footnote records that on two occasions in the
1970s the House authorities informally invited the police to consider prosecuting
those responsible for gross misbehaviour in the gallery.
83. Thus the House does not assert an exclusive jurisdiction to deal with
criminal conduct, even where this relates to or interferes with proceedings in
committee or in the House. Where it is considered appropriate the police will be
invited to intervene with a view to prosecution in the courts. Furthermore, criminal
proceedings are unlikely to be possible without the cooperation of Parliament.
Before a prosecution can take place it is necessary to investigate the facts and
obtain evidence. The powers of the police in respect of these activities are
contained in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. I am not aware that any
court has had to consider the extent to which, if at all, the provisions of this Act
apply within the Palace of Westminster. What occurs is that Parliament permits the
police to carry out their investigations within the precincts. I shall give some
examples of this cooperation which are of particular relevance in the context of
these appeals.
84. On 3 April 2008 a meeting took place between the Chairman of the
Committee on Standards and Privileges, the Parliamentary Commissioner for
Standards and the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. Following this an
agreed statement was released:
“All parties agreed that, other than in the limited context of
participation in proceedings in Parliament, Members of Parliament
are in no different position in respect of alleged criminal behaviour
than any other person. The Chairman reiterated the Committee’s
belief in the general principle that criminal proceedings against
Members, where these are considered appropriate, should take
precedence over the House’s own disciplinary proceedings. The
meeting discussed how the respective parties might coordinate their
activities to ensure the effective delivery of this principle.
Where the Metropolitan Police receive information which suggests a
Member of Parliament may have committed a criminal offence, they
will take the decision on whether to institute inquiries on their own
initiative, on the same basis as they would in any other case, and
without regard to whether the same information had formed any part
of a complaint to the Parliamentary Commissioner. The Metropolitan
Police undertook to inform the Parliamentary Commissioner in the
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normal course of events if they were considering initiating criminal
inquiries into a Member, with a view to establishing whether the
alleged conduct was also the subject of a complaint under the Code.
The Parliamentary Commissioner confirmed that he had regard,
where appropriate, to the possibility of criminal behaviour when
investigating complaints he received against Members of Parliament.
He would continue the practice in specific cases of liaising with the
Metropolitan Police or other relevant force whenever he considered
it appropriate to do so, initiating the process at the earliest
opportunity. All parties welcomed this.
If at any point in his investigation of a complaint, the Parliamentary
Commissioner considers that there are sufficient grounds to justify
reporting the matter to the police for them to consider a criminal
inquiry, he confirmed that he would submit a recommendation to
that effect to the Committee on Standards and Privileges who would
decide whether such a report should be made. Where this was done,
the Chairman confirmed that the Committee would normally expect
the Parliamentary Commissioner to suspend his inquiries until the
question of possible criminal proceedings had been resolved. The
Parliamentary Commissioner and the Committee would follow
similar procedures if informed by the police that they are considering
initiating criminal inquiries into a matter which was also the subject
of a complaint.
The Chairman also confirmed that if in the course of the
Committee’s consideration of the outcome of the Commissioner’s
investigation of a complaint it concluded that there were sufficient
grounds to justify a report to the police, it would normally expect to
advise the House accordingly, and defer reporting substantively on
the complaint until the question of possible criminal proceedings had
been resolved.”
85. On 27 November 2008 the offices of the Conservative front bencher, Mr
Damian Green, were searched by the police without a warrant. On 8 December
2008 the Speaker issued a protocol setting out future procedures where the police
sought to execute a search warrant in the House, the most material part of which
provides as follows:
“1. Responsibility for controlling access to the precincts of the
House has been vested by the House in me. It is no part of my duties
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as Speaker to impede the proper administration of justice, but it is of
equal concern that the work of the House and of its Members is not
necessarily hindered.”
2. The precincts of Parliament are not a haven from the law. A
criminal offence committed within the precincts is no different from
an offence committed outside and is a matter for the courts. It is long
established that a Member may be arrested within the precincts.
3. In cases where the police wish to search within Parliament, a
warrant must be obtained and any decision relating to the execution
of that warrant must be referred to me. In all cases where any Officer
or other member of the staff of the House is made aware that a
warrant is to be sought the Clerk of the House, Speaker’s Counsel,
the Speaker’s Secretary and the Serjeant at Arms must be informed.
No Officer or other member of the staff of the House may undertake
any duty of confidentiality which has the purpose or effect of
preventing or impeding communication with these Officers.
4. I will consider any warrant and will take advice on it from senior
officials. As well as satisfying myself as to the formal validity of the
warrant, I will consider the precision with which it specifies the
material being sought, its relevance to the charge brought and the
possibility that the material might be found elsewhere. I reserve the
right to seek advice of the Attorney General and Solicitor General.
5. I will require a record to be provided of what has been seized, and
I may wish to attach conditions to the police handling of any
parliamentary material discovered in a search until such time as any
issue of privilege has been resolved.”
86. On 30 September 2010 Mr Andrew Gibson, a budget officer in the Fees
Office, was sentenced to 9 months imprisonment after pleading guilty to three
counts of obtaining money transfers by deception. He had drawn up false invoices
in the names of three former Members of Parliament. It is reasonable to assume
that this prosecution was brought with the assistance of the House authorities.
87. The court was provided with information that on 12 October 2010 the
Standards and Privileges Committee agreed that the Parliamentary Commissioner
for Standards should report to the Metropolitan Police Service the conduct of Mr
Denis MacShane MP in relation to claims for expenses. According to the
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procedures agreed between the Committee, the Commissioner and the
Metropolitan Police an inquiry by the Commissioner into a complaint against Mr
MacShane was suspended until the question of possible criminal proceedings was
88. In the course of the hearing of these appeals the court was informed that,
with the consent of the defendants, the Fees Office had provided the prosecution
with documentation in relation to the defendants’ claims for allowances and
89. Parliament by legislation and by administrative changes has to a large
extent relinquished any claim to have exclusive cognisance of the administrative
business of the two Houses. Decisions in relation to matters of administration are
taken by parliamentary committees and it has been common ground before the
Court that these decisions are protected by privilege from attack in the courts. The
1999 Report distinguishes, however, between such decisions and their
implementation, expressing the view that the latter is not subject to privilege. I
consider that view to be correct.
90. Where the House becomes aware of the possibility that criminal offences
may have been committed by a Member in relation to the administration of the
business of Parliament in circumstances that fall outside the absolute privilege
conferred by article 9, the considerations of policy to which I have referred at para
61 above require that the House should be able to refer the matter to the police for
consideration of criminal proceedings, or to cooperate with the police in an inquiry
into the relevant facts. That is what the House has done in relation to the
proceedings brought against the three defendants.
91. The area of activity to which these prosecutions relate is administrative. The
payment of allowances and expenses had until recently been entrusted to the Fees
Office by the Commission, a body set up for the purposes of administration – see
paras 9 to 11 above. These administrative tasks are now performed by the
Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, set up under the Parliamentary
Standards Act 2009. The House has asserted a disciplinary jurisdiction over claims
that have been made for allowances and expenses and, to that end, the Members
Estimate Committee set up a review of such claims under Sir Thomas Legg. The
House has not, however, asserted exclusive cognisance, or jurisdiction, in respect
of such claims. On the contrary, on 20 July 2009 the Committee excluded from the
claims referred to Sir Thomas any that were under investigation by the police.
Page 36
92. Even if the House were not co-operating with the prosecuting authorities in
these cases, I do not consider that the court would be prevented from exercising
jurisdiction on the ground that they relate to matters within the exclusive
cognisance of Parliament. If an applicant sought to attack by judicial review the
scheme under which allowances and expenses are paid the court would no doubt
refuse the application on the ground that this was a matter for the House.
Examination of the manner in which the scheme is being implemented is not,
however, a matter exclusively for Parliament. It was not suggested that Members
have a contractual entitlement to allowances and expenses, but if they were to have
such contractual rights, I see no reason why they should not sue for them. If a
question were raised as to whether allowances and expenses were taxable, the
court would be entitled to examine the circumstances in which they were paid.
Equally there is no bar in principle to the Crown Court considering whether the
claims made by the defendants were fraudulent. This is not to exclude the
possibility that, in the course of a criminal prosecution, issues might arise
involving areas of inquiry precluded by parliamentary privilege, although that
seems unlikely having regard to the particulars of the charges in the cases before
93. For these reasons I am satisfied that neither article 9 nor the exclusive
cognisance of the House of Commons poses any bar to the jurisdiction of the
Crown Court to try these defendants. That is why I decided that each appeal should
be dismissed.
94. The appellants are three former Members of Parliament who are charged
with false accounting, contrary to section 17(1)(b) of the Theft Act 1968 (“the
Theft Act”). The first count on the indictment against Mr Morley, for example, is
in these terms:
False accounting, contrary to section 17(1)(b) of the Theft Act 1968.
ELLIOT MORLEY, between 1 April 2004 and 28 February 2006,
dishonestly, with a view to gain for himself or with intent to cause
loss to another, in furnishing information for the purpose of making
allowance claims, produced or made use of documents required for
an accounting purpose, namely 19 Form ACA2 claim forms, which
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to his knowledge were or may have been misleading, false or
deceptive in a material particular, in that they stated he was paying
£800 per month in mortgage interest, when in fact he was paying a
lesser amount.”
The appellants have not suggested that the indictments do not disclose an offence
under English law or that the counts are otherwise defective.
95. The argument which has eventually brought these appeals to this Court
arises out of an aspect of the indictments which does not emerge immediately,
even from the particulars of the offences: at the relevant time Mr Morley and the
other appellants were MPs. The reference to Form ACA2 is, however, a reference
to a form which MPs used for submitting claims for allowances to the Fees Office
of the House of Commons. When submitting such claims MPs had to sign a
declaration to the effect that they had incurred the costs in question “wholly,
exclusively and necessarily to enable [them] to stay overnight away from [their]
only or main home for the purpose of performing [their] duties as a Member of
Parliament.” The argument for the appellants is that the counts refer to the
submission of claims by MPs to an office of the House of Commons and that, in
these circumstances, a prosecution is “precluded by parliamentary privilege, by
reference either to article 9 of the Bill of Rights or to the exclusive jurisdiction of
Parliament to regulate its own affairs.”
96. As it existed at the relevant time, the system for payment of Members’
allowances had been created by, and continued to rest solely on, Resolutions of the
House of Commons. A request for the necessary funds to pay the allowances was
included in the Members Estimate which was laid by the Treasury each year as
part of the Government’s Main Supply Estimates. The Members Estimate
Committee was responsible for oversight of the expenditure on the allowances.
The Committee on Members’ Allowances advised the Members Estimate
Committee on this matter. In his role as Accounting Officer, the Clerk of the
House of Commons was responsible for compiling the necessary accounts and was
accountable to the House for the money spent. The Members Estimate Audit
Committee advised the Clerk of the House in this connexion.
97. The various allowances available to Members were set out in the “Green
Book”, on which the Committee on Members’ Allowances advised the Speaker,
the Members Estimate Committee and the Leader of the House. Moreover, if any
question arose as to the application of the rules in the Green Book, a Member
could refer it to the Committee on Members’ Allowances, from which there was an
appeal to the Members Estimate Committee. The administration of the system of
allowances (including payment of the allowances) was handled by an office,
usually referred to as “the Fees Office”, within the Operations Directorate. If the
Page 38
Fees Office refused a Member’s claim to an allowance, the Member could appeal
to the Committee on Members’ Allowances and from there to the Members
Estimate Committee.
98. A further point to notice about the indictments is that the particulars of the
offences do not specify where the MPs are alleged to have been when they
submitted the claims. For all we know, they could have completed the forms at
home, whether in England or in Scotland, and sent them in by post. Equally, they
could have completed the forms while in the House of Commons and have
submitted them in person to the Fees Office. It does not matter since, on either
view, the misleading information would have been furnished to the Fees Office of
the House. But, to test the point taken by the appellants, it is best to assume that
the allegation is that they completed the forms in the House of Commons and
submitted them in person. So all stages of the alleged offence would have taken
place within the precincts of the House of Commons.
99. The Theft Act extends to England and Wales. In other words, it forms part
of the law of England and Wales. The Houses of Parliament and their dépendances
are in England and so the criminal law of England applies to what is done there.
The most famous illustration of this elementary point is, perhaps, the murder of the
Prime Minister, Mr Spencer Percival, in the lobby of the House of Commons in
1812. John Bellingham was arrested, prosecuted, tried for murder at the Old
Bailey, convicted and executed – all according to the common law of England. If
the assassin had been a fellow MP, then by the law of England he too would have
committed murder. The same would have applied if the MP had assassinated the
Prime Minister in the chamber of the House of Commons. Less dramatically, if a
Member of Parliament were to steal money from a fellow Member’s wallet in a
room in the House of Commons or from the till in the Members’ Dining Room, he
would commit theft under section 1 of the Theft Act. Similarly, if a Member
intentionally damaged one of the statues of former Prime Ministers in the lobby of
the House of Commons, he would commit criminal damage under section 1 of the
Criminal Damage Act 1971.
100. Equally – to come to the present cases – if a Member of Parliament
dishonestly, with a view to gain for himself, submitted a claim form which to his
knowledge was false in a material particular, the law of England would apply. The
Member would commit an offence under section 17(1) of the Theft Act, even if he
completed the form in the House of Commons and submitted it in person to the
Fees Office.
101. As already noted, the appellants say, however, that their prosecution in the
Crown Court for this offence is “precluded by parliamentary privilege, by
reference either to article 9 of the Bill of Rights or to the exclusive jurisdiction of
Page 39
Parliament to regulate its own affairs.” An invocation of parliamentary privilege is
apt to dazzle lawyers and judges outside Parliament. In Wellesley v Duke of
Beaufort (1831) 2 Russ & M 639, 660, Lord Brougham LC warned courts of
justice against acceding to claims of privilege “the instant they hear that once
magical word pronounced.” A few years later, in Stockdale v Hansard (1839) 9 Ad
& E 1, 112, Lord Denman CJ remarked that the privileges are “well-known, it
seems, to the two Houses, and to every Member of them, as long as he continues a
Member; but the knowledge is as incommunicable as the privileges to all beyond
that pale.” Happily, it is unnecessary on this occasion to penetrate too deeply into
these mysteries – if mysteries they be.
102. The appellants’ formulation of their argument might seem to suggest that
article 9 of the Bill of Rights deals with matters that would not necessarily fall
within the exclusive jurisdiction of Parliament to regulate its own affairs. A
moment’s reflection shows, however, that, unless a matter did fall within the
exclusive jurisdiction of Parliament – with the result that it did not fall within the
legitimate jurisdiction of the ordinary courts of the land, whether civil or criminal,
or of any other body – article 9 could not itself legitimately purport to exclude all
consideration of the matter outside Parliament. In other words, article 9 cannot be
intended to apply to any matter for which Parliament cannot validly claim the
privilege of exclusive cognizance.
103. Indeed, as the distinguished Clerk of the House of Commons, Sir Gilbert
Campion (later Lord Campion), pointed out in his Memorandum to the Select
Committee on the Official Secrets Acts in 1939, the relevant words in the
Preamble to the Bill of Rights make this clear:
“Whereas the late King James the Second by the Assistance of
diverse evill Councellors Judges and Ministers imployed by him did
endeavour to subvert and extirpate the Protestant Religion and the
Lawes and Liberties of this Kingdome…
By Prosecutions in the Court of Kings Bench for Matters and Causes
cognizable onely in Parlyament and by diverse other Arbitrary and
Illegall Courses…
And thereupon the said Lords Spirituall and Temporall and
Commons pursuant to their respective Letters and Elections being
now assembled in a full and free Representative of this Nation
takeing into their most serious Consideration the best meanes for
attaining the Ends aforesaid Doe in the first place (as their
Auncestors in like Case have usually done) for the Vindicating and
Asserting their auntient Rights and Liberties, Declare…” (Emphasis
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Sir Gilbert added: “The mischief the statute was intended to remedy was therefore
the drawing into examination in inferior courts of matters cognizable only in
Parliament.” See the Committee’s Report, p 24.
104. Therefore, even though the appellants put their case by reference to both
article 9 and the exclusive jurisdiction of the House of Commons, in truth there is
really only one basic question: does the matter for which the appellants are being
prosecuted in the Crown Court fall within the exclusive jurisdiction or cognizance
of Parliament – or, more particularly, of the House of Commons? If so, then the
appellants must prevail; if not, neither article 9 of the Bill of Rights nor any other
doctrine gives them a right to have the prosecution stopped on the ground of
parliamentary privilege.
105. The expression, “the High Court of Parliament”, makes the point that
Parliament has a certain power of judicature – as do the two Houses in their
separate capacities. In exercising this jurisdiction the Houses apply the law and
custom of Parliament (lex et consuetudo parliamenti). Cf Kielley v Carson (1843)
4 Moo PC 63, 89, per Parke B. The present case concerns the House of Commons.
Since about the time of Floyd’s Case (1621) the Commons have accepted that they
have no power to punish except for a contempt of their House: F W Maitland, The
Constitutional History of England (1908), p 245. Obviously, therefore, the House
neither has, nor claims to have, any power to try anyone for an offence under
English criminal law. If, for example, someone steals money within the precincts
of the House of Commons, the House cannot try him for the contravention of the
Theft Act: only the ordinary courts can do that. So, when Mr Andrew Gibson, a
budget officer in the Fees Office, obtained the transfer of money by submitting
false invoices to the Office in the names of three former MPs, he was prosecuted
for a contravention of section 15A of the Theft Act and pleaded guilty at
Southwark Crown Court, where he was sentenced to nine months imprisonment on
30 September 2010.
106. In such cases the most that the House itself could do would be to treat the
conduct as a contempt of the House and, in the exercise of its power of judicature,
punish the offender, not for the criminal offence, but for his contempt of the
House. Of course, the power to treat conduct as contempt of the House is
potentially open to abuse and it was in fact abused in the past, to restrain and
punish a wide variety of acts to which MPs happened to take exception. In
Wellesley v Duke of Beaufort (1831) 2 Russ & M 639, 658-660, Lord Brougham
LC denounced past abuses. A catalogue of examples is attached to the report of the
speech of counsel for the plaintiff in Stockdale v Hansard (1839) 9 Ad & E 1, 12-
Page 41
107. It is not suggested that such abuses would readily occur nowadays. On the
contrary, today’s House of Commons is unlikely to use its power to take
proceedings for contempt against a thief or fraudster operating within its precincts
– if only because the police and the ordinary criminal law and courts are much
better adapted to dealing with such cases. In former times, when the House rightly
considered that a matter could be better dealt with by the ordinary courts than by
the House under its contempt jurisdiction, it either ordered the Attorney General to
institute criminal proceedings in the appropriate court or presented an address to
the Sovereign, asking for such proceedings to be commenced. See the examples in
the Second Report from the Select Committee appointed to consider of the
Proceedings had, and to be had, in respect of the several papers signed “Francis
Burdett”, 15 June 1810, in J Hatsell, Precedents of Proceedings in the House of
Commons vol 1, 2nd ed (1818), pp 294-295 and 302-303; and in Erskine May,
Parliamentary Practice, 23rd ed (2004), p 163 n 1. Today, the House authorities
would presumably contact the police and leave the matter in their hands. In Mr
Gibson’s case, for example, Scotland Yard was called in as a result of information
uncovered in the course of Sir Thomas Legg’s investigation of MPs’ expenses.
108. Therefore the mere fact that the House could treat a matter as one of
contempt does not mean that the House must do so. On the contrary, if the conduct
in question would also constitute an offence under the ordinary criminal law of
England, then the individual can be prosecuted in the criminal courts in the usual
way. The jurisdiction of the House to deal with the matter as one of contempt
overlaps with the jurisdiction of the ordinary courts to deal with it as a criminal
offence. In short, the matter does not fall within the exclusive cognizance of
109. The examples I have given concerned offenders, hypothetical and actual,
who were not Members of Parliament. But, in principle, the same must apply to
MPs who commit an “ordinary crime”, such as theft. Admittedly, it is possible to
find passages in the authorities which are so widely stated that they might seem to
imply that even an ordinary crime committed by a Member of Parliament within
the precincts of the House of Commons would fall within the exclusive cognizance
of the House.
110. For example, in his Commentaries on the Laws of England, 17th ed (1814),
vol 1, Bk 1, chap 2, pp 158-159, under reference to Coke’s Institutes, Blackstone
says that the whole of the law and custom of parliament has its original from this
one maxim:
“that whatever matter arises concerning either house of parliament,
ought to be examined, discussed, and adjudged in that house to
which it relates, and not elsewhere.’’
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Similarly, in Stockdale v Hansard (1839) 9 Ad & E 1, 114, referring to the two
Houses of Parliament, Lord Denman CJ says that “whatever be done within the
walls of either assembly must pass without question in any other place.”
111. These very generalised statements have, however, to be seen in the context
of the actual practice of the House. Despite their wide terms, as pointed out in para
107 above, it was, for example, the practice of the House of Commons to direct the
Attorney General to prosecute someone who was alleged to have committed
perjury when giving evidence to a committee of the House: James Welsh (1860)
CJ 258; Henry Chambers (1866) CJ 239.
112. More particularly, however, for centuries the House of Commons has not
claimed the privilege of exclusive cognizance of conduct which constitutes an
“ordinary crime” – even when committed by a Member of Parliament within the
precincts of the House.
113. In this context the expression “ordinary crime” occurs in the judgment of
Stephen J in Bradlaugh v Gossett (1884) 12 QBD 271, 283, where he said: “I
know of no authority for the proposition that an ordinary crime committed in the
House of Commons would be withdrawn from the ordinary course of criminal
justice.” Although his use of the expression has been criticised, Stephen J was
clearly drawing a distinction between an “ordinary crime” (such as theft) and a
crime (such as sedition) which a Member of Parliament committed by saying
something in the exercise of his freedom of speech in the House. What the
Member said in the House would fall within the exclusive cognizance of the House
and would be protected by article 9 of the Bill of Rights. The House of Commons
alone could consider the matter and decide what sanction, if any, should be applied
to the MP. So he could not be prosecuted for the crime in the ordinary courts and,
if any attempt were made to prosecute him, the House would intervene to stop the
prosecution in order to protect the privilege of freedom of speech and debate of the
House itself and, simultaneously, the particular Member’s exercise of that
114. In expressing the view that a Member of Parliament could be prosecuted for
an ordinary crime committed in the House of Commons, Stephen J referred to the
case of Sir John Elliot (1629) 3 St Tr 293. In 1629 Sir John Elliot and two others
were prosecuted in the King’s Bench for uttering seditious words in the House of
Commons and for laying violent hands on the Speaker. The defendants took a plea
to the jurisdiction of the court because “these offences are supposed to be done in
parliament, and ought not to be punished in this court, or in any other, but in
parliament.” The court overruled the plea and the defendants were convicted. In
1667, after the Civil War and the Restoration, a report of the trial was published
and came to the notice of the House of Commons: (1629) Cro Car 181. The House
Page 43
resolved that the judgment had been illegal and against the freedom and privilege
of Parliament. A conference was arranged with the House of Lords. Mr John
Vaughan (later Sir John Vaughan, the Chief Justice of the Common Pleas) spoke
on behalf of the Commons. He argued, at col 317, that the judges had craftily dealt
with the allegations of seditious speech and of violence to the Speaker together:
“So that perhaps whatsoever was criminal in the actions might serve
for a justification of their rule, and might make it seem in time to
become a precedent, and a ruled case against the Liberty of Speech
in Parliament, which they durst not singly and bare-faced have
Mr Vaughan went on to say, at col 318:
“[I]t is very possible the Plea of those worthy persons, Denzil Hollis,
Sir John Elliot, and the rest, was not sufficient to the jurisdiction of
the court, if you take in their criminal actions altogether; but, as to
the words spoken in parliament, the court could have no jurisdiction
while this act of 4 Hen 8 is in force, which extends to all members
that then were (or ever should be,) as well as Strode; and was a
public general law, though made upon a private and a particular
115. On a writ of error at the instance of Denzil Hollis (by now, Lord Hollis), the
House of Lords held, at cols 333-334, that the original judgment should be
reversed. It can be inferred from the Report by the Chief Justice (Sir John
Kellynge), at col 332, that the House criticised the original decision on essentially
the same basis as had been advanced by Mr Vaughan, viz, that the judges had
treated the allegation of seditious words and the allegation of violence to the
Speaker together. In the Chief Justice’s view, the allegations should have been
considered separately since, even if an allegation of violent trespass to the person
could or should “perhaps” (forte) be heard and decided in the King’s Bench,
nevertheless whatever is said and published in the House of Commons by a
serving Member of the House should not be heard or decided anywhere else than
in Parliament.
116. Although, as Stephen J noted in Bradlaugh v Gossett (1884) 12 QBD 271,
284, the House of Lords was careful not to express a concluded view on the
matter, the indication that the charge relating to the violence to the Speaker could
have been tried in the King’s Bench is pretty clear. Indeed, it was under reference
to this case that Maitland was able to say, “We may take it to be law that an
Page 44
ordinary crime, such as theft committed by a Member in the House, might be
punished in the ordinary courts in the ordinary way”: Constitutional History of
England, p 321.
117. Moreover, the simple fact is that, since 1667, the House has never claimed a
privilege of exclusive cognizance in a case where a Member has committed an
ordinary crime in the House or its precincts. The Attorney General (Sir Thomas
Inskip KC) drew attention to this in his argument in R v Graham-Campbell, Ex p
Herbert [1935] 1 KB 594, 597-598. He submitted that it showed that there was
nothing to bar a prosecution in such a case:
“Coke was expressing an opinion in support of the view now
contended for when he said that the exercise of the ‘power of
judicature’ of the House of Commons was ‘best understood by
reading the judgments and records of Parliament at large, …. and the
book of the clerk of the House of Commons, which is a record ….’:
see Institutes, Part IV, c 1, Of Judicature. Admittedly, a person
committing an ordinary felony or misdemeanour, even on the very
steps of the Speaker’s chair, would not be protected by the privilege
of the House, but would be amenable to the jurisdiction of the
criminal courts. That, however, is merely because the House has
never claimed the right to adjudicate on such matters. Adapting the
words of Coke, there is no record of such a privilege having been
exercised, and it can, therefore, be taken not to exist.”
118. That remains the position to this day. I have therefore no doubt that, if the
offences with which the appellants are charged are to be regarded as “ordinary
crimes”, then – even assuming that they are alleged to have been committed
entirely within the precincts of the House – the appellants can be prosecuted in the
Crown Court. The only question, therefore, is whether there is any aspect of the
offences which takes them out of the category of “ordinary crime” and into the
narrower category of conduct in respect of which the House would claim a
privilege of exclusive cognizance.
119. In theory, even though the allegations are of false accounting, that could be
the position. In Ex p Wason (1869) LR 4 QB 573, for example, an information
alleged that three members of the House of Lords had entered into a conspiracy.
Conspiracy is, in itself, an “ordinary crime”. But it was held that a charge of
conspiracy to make statements which the members of the House knew to be
untrue, in order to frustrate a petition to the House, was not cognizable by the
criminal law since it concerned statements to be made, or actually made, in the
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House. That was considered to take the alleged conspiracy into an area of conduct
which would be cognizable only by the House of Lords itself.
120. In the present cases the charges arise out of claims for allowances that the
appellants are alleged to have submitted to the Fees Office. As explained at paras
96-97 above, at the time, the system for claiming and paying allowances rested on
Resolutions of the House and was supervised by the Members Estimate
Committee, with the assistance of the Committee on Members’ Allowances. It was
very much a matter over which the House exercised exclusive control, except in
relation to the laying of the relevant estimate. Moreover, a system of allowances
can rightly be seen as providing a necessary support to Members in carrying out all
their parliamentary activities, including their core activities. It is therefore quite
possible that the rules of the system would have fallen within the area for which
the House would claim exclusive cognizance. And it may be that the same could
have been said of decisions by the Fees Office and, on appeal, by the supervising
Committees, as to a particular claim by a Member for payment of an allowance. A
challenge to any of these matters in the ordinary courts by a Member or by anyone
else might well have called into question decisions taken by Committees of the
House, or on their behalf, on a matter which was intended to be under the
exclusive control and cognizance of the House and its Committees.
121. Obviously, the offences which the appellants are alleged to have committed
could not have been committed if the House of Commons had not established and
operated the system for payment of Members’ allowances. But it is equally true
that a hypothetical Member could not steal from the till in the Members’ Dining
Room if the Administration Committee did not consider that the Dining Room
should continue to operate and to provide a service to Members. The Dining Room
merely provides the setting for the theft, however. Prima facie, therefore, a charge
against a Member of theft from the till would not call into question any decision of
that Committee or of the House in relation to the Dining Room or other
refreshment services. So the alleged conduct would not, in my view, fall within the
area for which the House would claim the privilege of exclusive cognizance. A
theft of that kind would be an “ordinary crime” which could be prosecuted in the
ordinary courts. Doubtless, the House could also treat it as a contempt of the
House, but this would be in the exercise of an overlapping, not an exclusive,
122. Similarly, in the present case, the appellants’ alleged conduct could well be
regarded as an affront to the system of Members’ allowances established by the
House – and, so, as a contempt of the House, which the House could punish in the
exercise of its power of judicature. But even though the alleged offences
presuppose the existence of the allowances system, nothing in the particulars in the
indictments indicates, or even suggests, that the prosecution of the charges would
raise any issue as to decisions of the House or of its Committees, or of any officers
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or employees acting on their behalf, as to the system or its operation. Nor would
the prosecution touch on any other core activities of Members of the House which
the privilege of exclusive cognizance exists to protect – their right, for example, to
debate, to speak, to vote, to give notice of a motion, to present a petition, to serve
on a committee, and to present a report to the House. In short, there is nothing in
the allegations against the appellants which relates in any way to the legislative or
deliberative processes of the House of Commons or of its Members, however
widely construed. The charges against the appellants are simply charges that they
have committed the “ordinary crime” of false accounting in circumstances where,
it so happens, the allegedly misleading information was furnished to the Fees
Office of the House of Commons. The allowances system merely provides the
setting for the alleged offences, which are “ordinary” crimes. Therefore they can
be prosecuted in the Crown Court. Again, the potential jurisdiction of the House in
contempt is an overlapping, not an exclusive, jurisdiction.
123. The very fact that the House authorities co-operated with the police in the
investigations which led to the charges against the appellants suggests, at least, that
the House authorities do not see the allegations as falling into the category in
respect of which the House would claim the privilege of exclusive cognizance. The
fact that the Speaker has not intervened to assert the privilege points in the same
124. If the privilege of the House to exercise exclusive cognizance in cases of
this kind had previously been established, then the appellants might have been able
to assert that privilege, even if the House authorities had chosen not to: Wellesley v
Duke of Beaufort (1831) 2 Russ & M 639, 655, per Lord Brougham LC. It is
unnecessary to express a view on this point, however, since the position in the
present cases is different: the appellants are claiming a privilege which the House
has not asserted in the past in these circumstances and which it has not asserted on
this occasion. The Court is entitled to notice, and to draw an inference from, that
clamant silence.
125. I am accordingly satisfied that the prosecution does not infringe article 9 of
the Bill of Rights by impeaching or questioning the freedom of speech, the
freedom of debates or the freedom of proceedings of the House or of its Members.
I am equally satisfied that the prosecution is not precluded on any other basis
relating to the Commons’ privilege of exclusive cognizance.
126. Of course, the Court can judge the situation only as it stands at present. If
the trial goes ahead, it may turn out that, contrary to expectations, some issue
arises which is said to touch on the core activities of MPs or of the House itself. If
that were actually so, the proceedings might be trespassing on an area for which
the House would claim exclusive cognizance and to which article 9 would apply.
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In that event the Speaker or the House authorities might seek to intervene. It would
be up to the presiding judge, with the assistance of counsel, to decide what should
be done. In the meantime, however, there is nothing on the face of the indictments
which would justify this Court in preventing the appellants’ trial from proceeding.
127. For these reasons, which I understand to coincide in substance with those
advanced by Lord Phillips, I favoured dismissing the appeals.
128. We have read the judgments of Lord Phillips and Lord Rodger. We agree
with them and for the reasons they give we too considered that these appeals
should be dismissed.
129. My reasons for agreeing that these appeals should be dismissed were those
given by Lord Phillips and, subject to what follows, by Lord Rodger. I add a few
words of my own limited to the second type of privilege relied upon, which is
known as “exclusive cognisance”.
130. It is to my mind plain from Lord Phillips’ analysis of this principle that it is
a privilege which belongs to Parliament and not to individual members. This is I
think clear from the fact that, unlike the privilege provided for in article 9 of the
Bill of Rights, Parliament can waive or relinquish it. It seems to me to follow
logically from that conclusion that it is for Parliament, and not the individual
member to rely upon it. In his paras 79 to 83 Lord Phillips has demonstrated that
Parliament has never asserted the privilege in cases of the kind at present before
the court. He then gives examples based on these and similar cases in recent times
at paras 84 to 88. In the light of the practice of Parliament over many years he then
concludes in paras 89 to 92 that Parliament has never asserted the privilege in such
cases and, subject to the possibility of an Act of Parliament conferring such a
privilege, that it is not now open to it to do so. I agree with him that it follows that
it is not open to the appellants to do so.
131. Even if it were open to Parliament to rely upon the privilege in cases of this
type, since Parliament has the right to waive or relinquish the right to do so, I do
not think that an individual member could rely upon the privilege if Parliament has
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waived or relinquished the right in the particular case. It appears to me that, on the
basis of the facts stated by Lord Phillips between paras 84 to 91, Parliament has
waived or relinquished any right it might otherwise have had to claim the
privilege. Having referred the investigation of allegations such as those made
against the appellants to the police with a view to possible prosecution and having
co-operated with the police, I do not see how Parliament could now assert the
exclusive cognisance relied upon. In these circumstances it seems to me that it is
not open to the appellants as individual members to do so.
132. I recognise that this conclusion may be inconsistent with the statement
made by Lord Brougham LC in Wellesley v Duke of Beaufort (1831) 2 Russ & M
639 at 655, which is referred to by Lord Rodger at para 124 above. Lord
Brougham’s statement, which did not form part of the judgment and was no more
than a view expressed in the course of the argument, was in these terms:
“If a Court of Law or of Equity, upon due deliberation, entertains an
opinion that a Member of either House of Parliament has privilege of
Parliament, that Court is, in my judgment, bound to give him the
benefit of his privilege, and to give it him with all its incidents, even
although the House to which he belongs abandons it as a claim of
right; for a Court knows nothing judicially of what takes place in
Parliament till what is there done becomes an Act of the
133. That principle may apply to the article 9 privilege but I do not think that it
can apply to the exclusive cognisance privilege. It is inconsistent with Lord
Phillips’ conclusion at para 63 above that exclusive cognisance can be waived or
relinquished by Parliament. Based on p 105 of the 23rd edition of Erskine May on
Parliamentary Practice, Lord Phillips refers to a 1980 resolution which permitted
reference to be made in court to certain Parliamentary papers which had up to then
been subject to a claim for exclusive cognisance. It appears to me to follow from
those statements that, where Parliament has waived or relinquished the privilege in
respect of a particular matter, no individual member can rely upon it. In so far as
Lord Brougham expressed a different view, I would not accept it. The reason he
gives sounds odd to modern ears. I do not think that it can properly be said today
that a court knows nothing judicially of what takes place in Parliament till what is
there done becomes an Act of the Legislature. In these circumstances I would not
accept that Lord Brougham’s statement, which was after all only made arguendo,
is correct today.