This is a series of three blogs about Parliament and Libel. The first, Privilege, Libel and the long road to Stockdale v. Hansard, Part I: from Strode’s Case to Article IX, dealt with the earliest encounters, in the seventeenth century, between parliamentarians and the court over the publication of material that the parliamentarians believed was… Continue reading Parliamentary Privilege and Libel, Part II: from Wilkes to 1835
In 1836 the House of Commons published a series of reports of the new prison inspectors appointed under an Act of Parliament passed the year before. Their shocked claim that a pornographic book had been discovered in Newgate jail set of a train of unintended consequences that led to a series of law suits that are collectively referred to as Stockdale v. Hansard, a Gilbertian political farce and the biggest crisis in the relationship between the courts and parliament in British history.
These days, the parliamentary privilege of free speech is regarded as deriving from the assertion in Article IX of the 1689 Bill of Rights that ‘Freedom of Speech and Debates or Proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any Court or Place out of Parliament’. That it is considerably older than that is certain, but how old, very much not so.