A v The United Kingdom [2002] ECHR 811, (2003) 36 EHRR 51, 13 BHRC 623

Key point

  • The Strasbourg court held that Parliamentary privilege is compatible with Convention rights in the ECHR, in particular the right to a fair hearing under Article 6

Facts

  • Applicant lived in a local housing house provided by a SHA (social housing association) where she suffered racial abuse
  • The SHA moved her to another house situated at 50 Concorde Drive in 1994
  • In 1996 the MP for the area initiated a Parliamentary debate on the subject of municipal ousting policy and referred to the applicant multiple times by referring to her name and referring to members of her family, his comments described the applicant as being a “neighbour from hell”, the MP accused the applicant of participating in criminal activities
  • The allegations made by the MP have been denied by the applicant, the MP did not try to communicate with the applicant and did not try to verify the accuracy of his comments
  • Newspapers had articles mentioning the applicant’s name and address and depicting her the same way the MP did during the debate
  • The applicant suffered from hate letters, and public abuse by strangers in reference to the comments made about her during the debate and in the newspaper

Issue

  •  Does parliamentary privilege infringe one’s right to a fair hearing and their right to private life ?

Held (European Court of Human Rights)

  • Restrictions on Convention rights contained in Articles 6 § 1, 8 , 13, and 14 can be legitimately justified by the need to protect free speech in Parliament embodied in the principle of Parliamentary privilege

Judge Costa 

  • Reaffirmed that “The absolute nature of the immunity enjoyed by members of Parliament in respect of their statements serves an interest that is so important as to justify the denial of access to a court to seek redress.”
  • “irrespective of the seriousness of the interference with the applicant’s private and family life as a result of the speech by a member of Parliament, her rights under Article 6 § 1 and Article 8 of the Convention were not infringed.”

Commentary

  • Even when an applicant suffers from defamation from a Member of Parliament, there is no means of redress, no matter the seriousness of allegations and the impact it has on the applicant’s life
  • It can be argued that defamatory commentaries are not opinions that are to be protected by parliamentary immunity, but rather misinformation
  • Parliamentary privilege does not necessarily have to extend to the press, as it is for the French government for example, where immunity only applies in the course of their duty.
  • The complete lack of remedy for the applicant regardless of the damages suffered might amount to a violation of article 13as held by Judge Loucaides’ dissenting opinion