Lords: privileges of Parliament and of peerage

12.2The Lords enjoy their privileges simply because of their immemorial role in Parliament as advisers of the Sovereign.

In addition to privilege of Parliament, which is enjoyed by all Members of the House of Lords, whether they are bishops or peers, there is a separate privilege of peerage, which extends to all peers, whether or not they have seats in the House, including peers who are minors, and also to wives and widows of peers.1 Unlike privilege of Parliament, it is not interrupted by a long prorogation or dissolution.2 The extent of the privilege of peerage is not entirely clear, but it has been shown in recent times to confer immunity from arrest on civil process.3 The Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege in 1999 recommended its abolition.4


  1. 1. By the Acts of Union of 1706 and 1800 peers of Scotland and Ireland were accorded the same privileges as peers of England (Holiday et al v Colonel Pitt (1734) 27 ER 767, 93 ER 987; case of Viscount Hawarden (LJ (1828) 28–34)). If, however, a peer of Ireland is elected to the Commons they are not entitled to privilege of peerage so long as they continue to be a Member of that House (Union with Ireland Act 1800, art 4). The Peeresses Act 1441 (20 Hen 6, c 9) conferred the right of trial by the House of Lords upon peeresses; since that time it has been the law that women peers and wives and widows of peers have had the same immunity from arrest on civil process as peers (Countess of Rutland's case, ed J H Thomas and J F Fraser Reports of Sir Edward Coke (1826) vi, p 52; cases of Lady Purbeck (1625); Lady De la Warr (1642); Lady Dacre (1660); Lady Petre (1664); Countess of Huntingdon (1676); Countess of Newport (1699); Lady Abergavenny (1727); LJ (1828) 28–34). A peeress by marriage forfeits her privilege of peerage if she marries a commoner (SO No 83).
  2. 2. For interruption of privilege of Parliament, see paras 14.12–14.13; House of Lords SO No 82; Sir Edward Coke First Part of the Institutes (1823) s 9 [16b]; LJ (1660–66) 298; ibid (1691–96) 241; ibid (1666–75) 714; ibid (1675–81) 67, 79, 80, 659.
  3. 3. Stourton v Stourton [1963] P 302; Peden International Transport, Moss Bros, The Rowe Veterinary Group and Barclays Bank plc v Lord Mancroft (1989), see Patricia Leopold, ‘The freedom of peers from arrest’, Public Law (Autumn 1989). See also para 14.13.
  4. 4. HL 43-I, HC 214-I (1998–99) para 329.