Jennings v Buchanan

16.28As described in Chapter 13, the privilege of freedom of speech does not automatically extend to the repetition outside Parliament of what is said inside, although qualified privilege or the protection of the Parliamentary Papers Act 1840 may apply. This came to prominence in a New Zealand case, Jennings v Buchanan, in which the question to be decided was ‘whether a Member of Parliament may be held liable in defamation if the Member makes a defamatory statement in the House of Representatives – a statement which is protected by absolute privilege under article 9 of the Bill of Rights 1688 – and later affirms the statement (but without repeating it) on an occasion which is not protected by privilege’.1 Mr Buchanan had responded to a question about whether he stood by a statement in the New Zealand House of Representatives with the information that he did not resile from it. It was held that this formulation meant Mr Jennings had republished by reference what he had said on the earlier occasion. The Privy Council considered that this republication be reference was not privileged, even though the earlier parliamentary statement was necessary to understand it. It held:

‘A statement made in Parliament is absolutely privileged (and it is not necessary in this case to consider how far the definition of parliamentary proceedings may extend). A statement made out of Parliament may enjoy qualified privilege but will not enjoy absolute privilege, even if reference is made to the earlier privileged statement. A degree of circumspection is accordingly called for when a Member of Parliament is moved or pressed to repeat out of Parliament a potentially defamatory statement previously made in Parliament. The Board conceives that this rule is well understood, as evidenced by the infrequency of cases on the point.’


  1. 1. Jennings v Buchanan (New Zealand) [2004] UKPC 36, [2005] 1 AC 115, [2005] 2 All ER 273 (Privy Council Appeal No. 53 of 2003).