TOPIC 2 Historical Evolution of Parliamentary Privileges Introduction
Historical Evolution of Parliamentary Privileges
A ‘privilege’ means a special or exceptional right or an immunity enjoyed by a particular class of persons or individuals which is not available to the rest of the people. In its legal sense it means an exemption from some duty, burden, attendance or liability to which others are subject. Parliamentary parlance the term ‘privilege’ means certain rights and immunities enjoyed by each house of parliament and its committees collectively, and by the members of each house individually without which they cannot discharge their functions efficiently and effectively. The privileges are available to members only when they are functioning in their capacity as members of parliament and performing their parliamentary duties. Without the privileges the members would be handicapped in performing their parliamentary duties and the authority of parliament itself in confronting the executive and as a forum for expressing the anxieties of citizens, would be correspondingly diminished. The privileges of each house gave both external and internal aspects: they protect it against outside interference that would erode freedom to conduct its own proceeding; and they impose duties on its members, restraining them from conduct that would abuse their privileged position.
On the other hand the fact that the house, and its individual members, claim certain privileges not available to the ordinary citizen, and may seek to punish those who infringe them, tends to set the house apart from the people it represents and make it liable to criticism- and even ridicule- if it appears to be asserting privileges which are not obviously essential for its functions.
The reconciliation of these two claims- the need to maintain parliamentary privileges and the desirability of not abusing them-has been the hallmark of the House of Commons’ treatment of privilege issues in recent years.
Historical background of parliamentary privileges:
The origin of parliamentary privileges is inextricably intertwined with the specific history of the institution of parliament in England. The executive branch of government was separated from the parliament and the House of Commons were struggling to establish place for itself in the parliament which was necessary to protect them from the inference and power of the king and the house of lord. Thus the privileges were established in late 16th century. What originated from the special protection of the king was being claimed by the commons on the basis of theory of inheritance and divine right of the king. Thus when the stable condition was reached in 19th century with the limits of privileges being prescribed and ac