Morgan, Mensch and Parliamentary Privilege

Evan Price, a barrister at ten old square in Lincoln’s Inn, writes on Parliamentary Privilege and the phone hacking row between Piers Morgan and Louise Mensch.

Evan Price is a barrister at ten old square in Lincoln’s Inn. He has acted in cases that concern privilege, immunity and the powers or Parliament, as well as cases involving property, insolvency and trusts and estates. He is a member of the Conservative party and was a candidate for Wales in the European Parliamentary elections in 2009.

It feels a little odd for me, a Conservative party member and former candidate, to be writing for Left Foot Forward, but also entertaining. At the time of the Reformation, artists portrayed individuals who remained loyal to Rome with their left foot forward and the coincidence of that portrayal and some of the writings on this blog amuses me too…

But onto the topic which I have been asked to consider; Piers Morgan is complaining that  Louise Mensch MP (née Bagshawe) ‘lied to Parliament’ when asserting that he had admitted that he had ‘hacked’ phones or that newspapers under his editorship had been involved in such activity.

Watch their live, on-air confrontation on CNN:

The former Mirror editor goes on to complain that she is protected by Parliamentary privilege and she has pointedly refused to repeat her allegations outside Parliament. Presumably, Piers (I knew his brother quite well when I was in the Army) is considering legal process.

So what is Parliamentary privilege? It is a legal privilege that is sometimes also referred to as an absolute immunity that protects MPs from suit for the things they say when in Parliament – it is described in Erskine May as:

“To a certain extent an exemption from the general law.”

It is considered necessary for the Houses of Parliament and individual members to have such privilege in order that they can exercise their functions without interference from outside – and originally from angry despotic Monarchs…

The particular privilege that Louse Mensch MP is protected by is that of freedom of speech. This appears to have evolved very early, and the Commons claimed such a freedom from the late 15th-century – although it was then claimed as a tradition rather than a right.

In essence, they sought forgiveness from the Monarch for any perceived insult or where the Monarch’s displeasure was incurred as a general waiver for a session. As a result it was rather a different animal from the privilege that we now observe.

The Bill of Rights put the privilege onto a statutory footing (and set against the arguments between King Charles and his Parliaments that is probably understandable). In essence, Article IX of the Bill of Rights provides that speech and debates and proceedings in Parliament are not to be:

“Impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament.”

It is thought that this was intended to stifle both courts and the Crown. But it stifles others too.

In 1887, a court, having concluded that the offending words were spoken in the House of Commons, ordered that the writ and statement should be taken off the records of the court, as the court had no jurisdiction in the matter – see Dillon v Balfour (1887) 20 LR Ir 600. So it appears that even the record cannot be cited in court as evidence against an individual who enjoys the protection.

This position has even survived a challenge to the ECHR – in A v United Kingdom (2002, Application no 35373/97), the European Court of Human Rights concluded that the privilege did not breach articles 6 or 8 of the Convention.

The truth of the matter is that in our Constitutional settlement, the Houses of Parliament are themselves courts.

The result is that for Piers to obtain the redress that he appears to seek, he will need to drum up support in the House of Commons – and given that relatively recently he a was tabloid editor and before that the named author of the Bizarre column in the Sun, I rather suspect his prospects are slim.

35 Responses to “Morgan, Mensch and Parliamentary Privilege”

  1. Jason Dicker

    Morgan, Mensch and Parliamentary Privilege: //bit.ly/ocwm9r by Evan Price #hackgate @LouiseMensch @PiersMorgan

  2. Filsan Ali

    Morgan, Mensch and Parliamentary Privilege: //bit.ly/ocwm9r by Evan Price #hackgate @LouiseMensch @PiersMorgan

  3. John Nor

    Morgan, Mensch and Parliamentary Privilege: //bit.ly/ocwm9r by Evan Price #hackgate @LouiseMensch @PiersMorgan

  4. Deb

    Morgan, Mensch and Parliamentary Privilege: //bit.ly/ocwm9r by Evan Price #hackgate @LouiseMensch @PiersMorgan

  5. Gael

    Morgan, Mensch and Parliamentary Privilege: //bit.ly/ocwm9r by Evan Price #hackgate @LouiseMensch @PiersMorgan

  6. zodiac zephyr

    Morgan, Mensch and Parliamentary Privilege: //bit.ly/ocwm9r by Evan Price #hackgate @LouiseMensch @PiersMorgan

  7. Praterstrasse

    RT @leftfootfwd: Morgan, Mensch and Parliamentary Privilege //t.co/LMutoZm

  8. Johanna

    Morgan, Mensch and Parliamentary Privilege: //bit.ly/ocwm9r by Evan Price #hackgate @LouiseMensch @PiersMorgan

  9. Roger Goddard

    As I watched the select committee hearing, I knew that @LouiseMensch must have been talking crap about @PiersMorgan //t.co/LZPaRzF

  10. zodiac zephyr

    @CNN @piersmorgan an interesting read regarding Parliamentary Privilege //bit.ly/ocwm9r #unfollowpiersmorgan

  11. Johanna

    RT @leftfootfwd: Morgan, Mensch and Parliamentary Privilege //t.co/LMutoZm

  12. nobby-Lobby

    RT @leftfootfwd: Morgan, Mensch and Parliamentary Privilege //t.co/LMutoZm

  13. nobby-Lobby

    Morgan, Mensch and Parliamentary Privilege: //bit.ly/ocwm9r by Evan Price #hackgate @LouiseMensch @PiersMorgan

  14. Piers Moron

    Note to self (@piersmorgan) Hide this link from @CNN – Parliamentary Privilege //t.co/Tlmi4hR #unfollowpiersmorgan

  15. Ian M

    As I watched the select committee hearing, I knew that @LouiseMensch must have been talking crap about @PiersMorgan //t.co/LZPaRzF

  16. Chris

    Morgan, Mensch and Parliamentary Privilege: //bit.ly/ocwm9r by Evan Price #hackgate @LouiseMensch @PiersMorgan

  17. DrKMJ

    RT @leftfootfwd: Morgan, Mensch and Parliamentary Privilege: //bit.ly/ocwm9r by Evan Price #hackgate @LouiseMensch @PiersMorgan

  18. Bristol NUJ

    Morgan, Mensch and Parliamentary Privilege: //bit.ly/ocwm9r by Evan Price #hackgate @LouiseMensch @PiersMorgan

  19. Dave Citizen

    I guess if this Piers guy is sure of his case he might deliberately provoke the other party Ms Mensch to sue for liable by repeatedly acusing her of lying, being unfit etc.

    However, I hope he doesn’t – the tabloid owners might be grateful for such a ‘celebrity’ distraction but I want our courts to focus on real crimes and our papers to tell us more about the abuse of extreme concentrations of private wealth and influence (well I can but dream).

  20. George McLean

    Whatever you think about Mr Morgan, Ms Mensch has lied about him and now is displaying cowardice in failing either to repeat (and defend) what she said outside Parliament or to apologise. Not a good week for her after her abysmal questioning of the Murdochs.

  21. Mr. Sensible

    The question of parliamentary privilage is an interesting one. It is of course an important part of our democracy that our elected representatives can get on with the job we elected them to do without facing allegations of libel ETC from outside bodies, but this can be open to abuse; one thinks immediately of Lib Dem MP John Hemming naming a footballer taking out a superinjunction for no other reason than to score a political point.

    I’m not sure on this case purely and simply because I don’t know who is telling the truth, but I will be interested to see if the speaker ends up getting involved when MPs come back in September.

  22. Just Looking

    @CNN @piersmorgan an interesting read regarding Parliamentary Privilege //bit.ly/ocwm9r #unfollowpiersmorgan

  23. Leon Wolfson

    No reason, Mr. Sensible? Superinjnctions are a blot on the UK legal system, and make us a laughing stock – rightly, when the information is freely repeated on non-UK-based websites.

  24. Mr. Sensible

    Leon, I think it is important that people are able to take out proceedings to stop the publication of information which is not in the public interest.

    As to websites like Twitter, we’ll see what the Levison enquiry has to say about that.

  25. Anon E Mouse

    What is certain is that News International weren’t alone in this “hacking” business.

    Certainly Piers Morgan has form in deceptive techniques just to get a “story” and his personal support of Andy Coulson would indicate to me that he knew what was going on at the Mirror Group.

    I remember the faked pictures that the Mirror printed of so called atrocities by British solders against Iraqi prisoners when a war was underway and I also remember the damage it did to the newspaper, which aside from it’s rapidly diminishing readership (understandable when it’s political journalist is Kevin McGuire) the thing is now a daily copy of Hello magazine and frankly a joke.

    It’s understandable that this MP wouldn’t repeat what she said in Parliament. Morgan is just concerned about his US profile and we will see what happens in the future…

  26. chris star

    Morgan, Mensch and Parliamentary Privilege
    //j.mp/oC6Smh
    #hackgate

  27. Jay

    The point is NOT whether Morgan has or has not had anything to do with hacking but that Mensch deliberately misquoted him from his book and refuses to admit this out of parliament as she could be sued. She is a coward and liar and her subsequent actions show that she is undeserving of her role as MP and indeed as a member of the select committee.

  28. George McLean

    Wot Jay said @ 7!

  29. Anon E Mouse

    Jay – If lying (and bulling and scheming and backstabbing) was a reason to be “undeserving of her role as MP” then this country would have had the benefit of no war in Iraq from Tony Blair and his lies and no Gordon Brown who’s lies continue to this day and which may have meant the re-election of Labour at the last election.

    MP’s lying in the commons is hardly new you know and all the Labour activists and their rank hypocrisy over this matter stinks.

    Lisbon Treaty Referendum anyone? Tuition Fees anyone?

    Piers Morgan needs to get his arse back to this country and along with the management of Mirror Group needs to explain their actions and the sooner Labour zombies realise how bad their double standards look and just let the enquiry get underway the better…

  30. Anon E Mouse

    Oh and add “smearing” to that list as well…

  31. Leon Wolfson

    @5 – Certainly. That meant national security and similar, not “oh I was shagging someone and don’t want the wife and the advertisers to know”.

    And that’s STILL vulnerable, and rightly so, to parliamentary privilege!

    And of course, Mouse is still stuck in a mindset where all labour supporters are identikit clones, and has failed to notice many of the left calling for the media to burn. It’s Milliband pushing this, while Cameroon tries to dodge, of course.

  32. Anon E Mouse

    Leon Wolfson – Ed Miliband had his shot and it’s going to come back to bite him on the arse. For Miliband it’s over. The public are bored and Labour haven’t moved in the polls.

    Already he’s fiddling the reporting and fails to mention he was here:

    //www.newstatesman.com/blogs/the-staggers/2010/09/miliband-speech-party

    Seems to me that you either want to clean up the press or you don’t. Clearly you don’t – perhaps you’re too busy on “secret missions” this week?

  33. Leon Wolfson

    Mouse – Your national socialist bullshit and constant refrain, regardless of the situation, of “Labour have failed, you’re all labour clones and suck” is annoying, pointless and typically spiteful of your type.

    It’s quite clear you don’t read anything I post, because I’ve certainly have called for cracking down on the crimes committed by the print press in general. But nuance is quite beyond your little fascist mind.

    You could be replaced with a bot, which I could write in 15 minutes, and nobody would notice.

  34. Anon E Mouse

    Leon Wolfson – Would you make sure the BOT has a bulls*^t detector built in and then when the BNP attack you in an “ambush” for being white (twice) you can get your screamer out (are you sure that isn’t a euphemism for something else Wolfster) and the code will immediately realise you’re back and disconnect you.

    Hey Mr Talltales you won’t be here for long….

  35. Leon Wolfson

    Mouse – Of course you can’t admit the BNP would attack anyone for being Jewish. I mean, that might mean thinking you’re the kind of thug and low-life that you really are. Thanks for proving you’re also an anti-semite, though.

    10 minutes, my bad.

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