Molestation of or interference with witnesses

38.59It is a contempt to deter prospective witnesses from giving evidence before either House or a committee, or to molest any persons attending either House as witnesses, during their attendance in such House or committee. Assaults upon witnesses in the precincts of the House1 and the use of threatening or abusive language within the precincts have been proceeded against.2

On the same principle, molestation of or threats against those who have previously given evidence before either House or a committee will be treated as a contempt. Such actions have included assault or a threat of assault on witnesses,3 insulting or abusive behaviour,4 misuse (by a gaoler)5 or censure by an employer.6

Under the provisions of the Witnesses (Public Inquiries) Protection Act 1892, persons who publish, damnify, or injure witnesses before committees of either House of Parliament on account of their evidence, unless such evidence was given in bad faith, are liable on conviction to be fined or imprisoned and ordered to pay the costs of the prosecution, as well as a sum by way of compensation to the injured persons (see para 13.14 ).

Committees have taken evidence from witnesses without divulging their names where there was reason to apprehend that private injury or vengeance might result from publication.7


  1. 1. CJ (1718–21) 290; ibid (1826–28) 345, 351 and Parl Deb (1827) 16, c 1305 and ibid 17, c 7; and see LJ (1696–1701) 144.
  2. 2. CJ (1648–51) 413; ibid (1667–87) 54; ibid (1818–19) 223 and Parl Deb (1819) 39, cc 978, 986. See also Home Affairs Committee, First Special Report of Session 1993–94, HC 107; Culture Media and Sport Committee, Session 2010–12, HC 903-ii.
  3. 3. CJ (1667–87) 678; ibid (1688–93) 579; ibid (1708–11) 498, 503, 535; ibid (1818–19) 223.
  4. 4. CJ (1714–18) 371.
  5. 5. CJ (1688–93) 514, 523, 534; ibid (1727–32) 247.
  6. 6. CJ (1732–37) 146; ibid (1892) 129, 157, 166; Parl Deb (1892) 3, cc 595, 698, 883 and Special Report of the Select Committee on Railway Servants (Hours of Labour), Session 1892, HC 125. See also Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, Second Special Report of Session 1974–75, HC 237 and Committee of Privileges, Third Report of Session 1975–76, HC 27 where an individual was not considered to have been adversely affected by his employer for having been a witness in Parliament. Also see Constitutional Affairs Committee, First Special Report of Session 2003–04, HC 210 and Standards and Privileges Committee, Fifth Report of Session 2003–04, HC 447.
  7. 7. See eg Committees on Home Work of Session 1908, HC 246, p xxii; Debtors (Imprisonment) of Session 1908, HC 344, p viii; and Violence in Marriage of Session 1974–75, HC 553-II, pp 15–31. When a prisoner gave evidence to an inquiry by the Education Committee into prison education, his name was not published, Session 1982–83, HC 45-II. See also written evidence to the Agriculture Committee, Session 1996–97, HC 45-II and Environment Committee, Session 1996–97, HC 42-II, Annex III (names of tenants visited and location of estate not published at estate management's request).