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July 23, 2015

MPs may no longer waive parliamentary privilege

Category: Defamation

Tags: Defamation, Parliament, privilege

Section 13 Defamation Act 1996 repealed


MPs and Peers are no longer able to waive parliamentary privilege for the purposes of defamation proceedings since the coming into force of Schedule 23 paragraph 44 of the Deregulation Act 2015 on 26 May 2015. That provision, situated in a Schedule of the Act entitled “Legislation no longer of practical use” repealed section 13 Defamation Act 1996.

The last parliamentary session had included a one clause Bill to repeal the section, which progressed no further than second reading. However, the government, which had stated that it would seek to repeal s.13 ultimately included it in the larger Deregulation Act.

Section 13 was introduced because of a perceived unfairness to MPs where what was in issue involved parliamentary proceedings (for example a question they had asked in the House of Commons). In these circumstances a libel action would not be able to proceed because the defendant in such an action would be prejudiced by not being able to raise matters which occurred in parliament. The section allowed MPs to waive privilege for themselves (but not for others) and thus for the claim to proceed.

Although the repeal was situated in a section of the Act entitled “Legislation no longer of practical use” the repeal will have an impact on any case involving a parliamentarian where the issues or evidence relied on include conduct which forms part of parliamentary proceedings. It was clear that Hamilton v Al Fayed could not have proceeded absent section 13.

Indeed parliamentary privilege and the implications of the repeal have already been discussed in Yeo v Times Newspaper Ltd, in a judgment of Warby J handed down on 22 July 2015.