Legal Dictionary

contempt of Parliament

Legal Definition of contempt of Parliament

Related terms

Definition of contempt of Parliament


contempt of Parliament (uncountable)

  1. The offence of obstructing a parliament in the carrying out of its functions, or of hindering any Member of Parliament in the performance of his or her duties.

Further reading

In some countries, contempt of parliament is the offence of obstructing the legislature in the carrying out of its functions, or of hindering any legislator in the performance of his or her duties. The offence is known by various other names in jurisdictions in which the legislature is not called "parliament". Actions that may constitute contempt of parliament include:

In some jurisdictions, a house of parliament may declare any act to constitute contempt, and this is not subject to judicial review. In others, contempt of parliament is defined by statute; while parliament makes the initial decision of whether to punish for contempt, the person or organisation in contempt may appeal to the courts. Some jurisdictions consider contempt of parliament to be a criminal offence.

United Kingdom

Contempt of Parliament consists of interference with parliamentary privilege and of certain acts that obstruct the house and its members in their business.

The same rules as apply to the House of Commons apply to the House of Lords mutatis mutandis (i.e. with the necessary modifications).

Parliamentary privilege consists of freedom of speech on the floor of the House and in committee, freedom from arrest, regulating its membership and exclusive cognisance of internal affairs.

Privilege extends to the publication of papers and reports by order of the House, including the official record 'Hansard'.

Freedom from arrest originally prevented the arrest (on criminal as well as civil grounds) of members, their goods and their staff. The freedom from arrest of servants and goods were removed in the 18th century as the privilege was open to abuse, as was immunity from arrest for criminal acts. MPs today are only protected from arrest on civil grounds, for contempt of court.

Regulation of composition extends to determining who is elected and whether they may take their seat. The result of elections is now de facto a matter for an Election Court composed of High Court judges, who issue a certificate to the Speaker in the case of elections where the result is disputed. The House also has exclusive right to determine whether members may take up their seat, including whether a member is eligible to take the relevantoath.

Exclusive cognisance of internal affairs extends to the right to determine the oaths to be taken by members and who may take them (Bradlaugh v Gossett), the right to determine who may use House of Commons facilities and the exclusion of the jurisdiction of the courts as to alcohol sale offences within the Palace of Westminster.

In the United Kingdom, it has been alleged that arresting a member of Parliament in the course of carrying out his duties may constitute contempt of Parliament, although immunity from criminal arrest was removed by the Parliamentary Privilege Acts of the 18th century.

It is further contempt to bribe or attempt to bribe any member (and for any member to accept or solicit a bribe), to disrupt the sittings of the House or a committee - wherever it is sitting, to refuse to appear before a committee to testify, to refuse to answer any question put by a committee, to lie to a committee or to refuse to swear an oath when testifying, or to otherwise obstruct the business of the House.

MPs accused of Contempt of Parliament may be suspended or expelled. They may also be committed to the clock tower under Big Ben, although this practice hasn't been used since Charles Bradlaugh was detained in 1880. Strangers (those who are not members of the House) may be committed to prison during the life of the Parliament. The House of Lords has the power to fine as well as to order imprisonment for a term of years.

United States

See contempt of Congress


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2.     quorum
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5.     lex causae
6.     lex patriae
7.     lex domicilii
8.     adjudication order
9.     appellant
10.     stare decisis