Article IX of the Bill of Rights
13.10Article IX of the Bill of Rights 1689 confers on ‘proceedings in Parliament’ protection from being ‘impeached or questioned’ in any ‘court or place out of Parliament’. Except in the limited circumstances mentioned below, none of these critical terms is defined, so that it has often fallen to the courts to arrive at judgments about their meaning in specific circumstances and against the background of parliamentary insistence on the privilege of exclusive cognizance of proceedings (see above) and concern that judicial interpretation should not narrow the protection of freedom of speech which Article IX affords.
It is in this area that the most acute conflicts may arise between public policy and issues of free comment and human rights. A decision in the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council involved an action for damages for defamation in which it was argued that in order for justice to be done the court had to take into consideration proceedings in Parliament. Lord Browne-Wilkinson identified three potentially conflicting issues:
‘first, the need to ensure that the legislature can exercise its powers freely on behalf of its electors, with access to all relevant information; second, the need to protect freedom of speech generally; third, the interests of justice in ensuring that all relevant evidence is available to the courts.’
Though the other two could not be ignored, the Committee was of the view that ‘the law has long been settled that, of these three public interests, the first must prevail’.1 Article IX is a provision of the highest constitutional importance, and should not be narrowly construed.2
Four of the terms in Article IX are particularly critical to its understanding: ‘impeached’, ‘questioned’, ‘proceedings in Parliament’, and ‘court or place out of Parliament’.
- 1. Prebble v Television New Zealand Ltd  1 AC 321 at 336,  3 All ER 407 at 417.
- 2. Pepper v Hart  1 AC 593 at 638,  1 All ER 42 at 67. See also United States v Brewster (1972) 408 US 501 at 516, in which Chief Justice Burger said that the corresponding United States provision ‘… must be read broadly to effectuate its purpose of protecting the independence of the legislative branch’; also United States v Helstoski (1979) 442 US 477 at 491, and Eastland v United States Servicemen's Fund (1975) 421 US 491 at 501.