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    Sunday, 12 March 2017

    Privileges of the House of Commons

    1. The nature of privileges of the House of Commons
    Each House exercises certain powers and privileges which are regarded as essential to the dignity and proper functioning of parliament. The Members also have certain privileges, although theses exist for the benefit of the House and not .for the personal benefit of the Members. Parliamentary privilege consists of the rights and communities which Parliament, its Members and officers possess to enable them to carry out their parliamentary functions.

    2. The privileges of the House of Commons

    The privileges of the Commons have been described as the sum of the fundamental rights of the House and of its individual Members as against the prerogatives of the Crown, the authority of the ordinary courts of law and the special rights of the House of Lords.
    At the opening of a new parliament the Speaker claims in the name and on behalf of the commons their "ancient and undoubted" privileges, in particular to

    i. Freedom of speech in debate
    ii. Freedom from arrest
    iii. Access of the Commons to the Crown through the Speaker; and
    iv. That the Crown will place the best construction on the deliberation of the Commons.

    a. Additional privileges
    Additional privileges not specifically claimed by the Speaker are:
    i. The right of the House to regulate its own composition;
    ii. The right to take exclusive cognizance of matters arising within the House;
    iii. The right to punish Members and strangers for breach of privileges and contempt; and
    iv. The right to control finance and initiate financial legislation.

    3. Freedom of speech and debate

    Freedom of speech and debate is the essential attribute of every free legislature, sand may be regarded as inherent in the constitution of Parliament. The members of the House of Commons enjoy exclusive freedom of speech.


    4. Proceeding sin Parliament

    What is said provided 'it is part of a debate or "proceeding reasonably clear that certain activities including: speaking in a debate, voting, giving notice of a motion, presenting petitions or committee reports, taking part in committees nominated or appointed by either House, asking parliamentary questions.

    5. Explanation of the privileges

    The privileges of the House of Commons may be explained as under

    a. Bribery
    It is contempt of the Parliament, punishable by Parliament to tribe a Member of either House and for a Member to accept such a bribe.

    b. Right cu exclude strangers
    The Commons has always exercised the right to exclude strangers, that is, persons who are not Members or officers of the House.
    This may be regarded both as a corollary to the principle of freedom of speech, and as necessary for the orderly conduct of business where there is a danger of disorderly interruption.

    c. Reporting Parliament and the publication of parliamentary paper
    Another corollary of the privilege of freedom of speech and the right of Parliament to control its own affairs was the right to restrain the publication of reports of proceedings.

    d. Broadcasting of Proceedings

    Regular sound broadcasting from both Houses started in 1978, television broadcasting from the House of' Lords in 1968, and the commons in 1989.

    6. Freedom from arrest

    Freedom from civil arrest was in former times an important privilege necessary for the proper functioning of Parliament, because arrest 'was often part of the process for commencing civil proceedings by compelling the appearance, of the defendant before the court, and also of distress, that is, enforcing a money judgment.

    The privilege of freedom from arrest has never been allowed to interfere with the administration of criminal justice, emergency legislation or contempt of court where the sentence is of a quasi-criminal nature.

    7. Right of the House to regulate its own composition

    The right of the House of Commons to regulate its own affairs may be described as under:

    a. Filling casual vacancies
    The speaker issues a warrant for the issue of a writ for an election to fill a casual vacancy.

    b. Determination of disputed elections
    The right of the Commons to decide question of disputed election returns established in 1604.

    c. Determination of legal disqualification
    The House retains the right to determine of its own motion whether a person, who has otherwise been property elected to legally disqualification from sitting.

    d. Expulsion of members who are unfit to serve
    The House may also expel a member, who, although not subject to any legal disability, is in its opinion unfit to serve as a member.

    e. Exclusive right to regulate its own proceedings
    Free speech in parliament is one aspect of a wider principle that what happens within parliament is controlled by parliament and is not review able by the courts.

    f. Parliament's disciplinary and penal powers
    Each House has power to enforce it privileges and to punish those, whether members or strangers, who infringe them. Each House also has .power to punish members or strangers for contempt. Some of the examples of Contempt of the House are as under:

    Examples of contempt
    The following is a list of some types of contempt
    i. disorderly or disrespectful conduct by strangers, parties or witnesses, in the presence of the House or one of its committees;
    ii. The refusal of a witness to answer questions from a committee, to produce documents or to give false evidence;
    iii. Disobedience to the rules or wishes of either House, for, e.g. to attend a committee when summoned to do so;
    iv. Publication of false or perverted report of debates;
    v. molesting a member of the House while he -is going to or from it;
    vi. Bribery of a member (this would be contempt both by the member accepting and by the person giving the bribe);
    vii. Intimidation of members, or putting pressure on a member to execute his duties in. a certain way;
    viii. Molesting or taking judicial proceedings against officers of either House in connection with their official conduct;

    ix. Obstructing or molesting witnesses summoned to either House or a committee thereof. 
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    Item Reviewed: Privileges of the House of Commons Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Usman Ali
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