Matters sub judice
25.74In general, the House abstains from discussing the merits of disputes about to be tried and decided in the courts of law. The sub judice rule is not absolute. The Lord Speaker exercises a general power of waiver and also a power of waiver in specific circumstances which are described below. The House has agreed that the practice governing motions and questions1 relating to matters sub judice should be similar in both Houses of Parliament, since it is desirable that each House should be in the same position to debate a sub judice matter when circumstances warrant it.2
The rules governing sub judice do not apply to bills, Measures or delegated legislation or to proceedings on them, nor to matters being considered by departmental inquiries and the like; but it is recognised that Parliament should not generally intervene in matters where the decision has been delegated to others by Parliament itself.
Cases in which proceedings are active in the United Kingdom courts, including courts martial, coroners' courts and fatal accident inquiries, may not be referred to in any motion, debate, question or supplementary question. In criminal matters, proceedings are active when a charge has been brought or a summons to appear has been issued or, in Scotland, a warrant to cite has been granted, until the proceedings are concluded by verdict and sentence or discontinuance or, in cases dealt with by courts martial, after the conclusion of the mandatory post-trial review. In civil matters, proceedings are active when arrangements for the hearing, such as setting down a case for trial, have been made, until the proceedings are ended by judgment or discontinuance. Appellate proceedings (whether criminal or civil) are active from the time when they are commenced by application for leave to appeal or by notice of appeal until ended by judgment or discontinuance.
The rules governing sub judice are subject to the proviso that, where a ministerial decision is in question, or where in the opinion of the Lord Speaker a case concerns issues of national importance such as the economy, public order or the essential services, reference to the issues or the case may be made. The Lord Speaker must be given at least 24 hours' notice of any proposal to refer to a matter which is sub judice. The exercise of the Lord Speaker's discretion may not be challenged in the House.3
- 1. The rules apply to supplementary questions in the same way as they apply to questions.
- 2. LJ (1963–64) 43; Report of the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege, HL 43-I (1998–99) para 202; the report was agreed by the House, HL Deb (1999–2000) 612, c 1725; LJ (2006–07) 140.
- 3. LJ (1994–95) 45, 90; HL Deb (31 January 2006) 678, cc 133–83.