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Contempt Of Parliament Explained

Reasons to choose Wilson Browne

Both Houses of Parliament can punish for contempt in a similar way to the superior courts of law.

This is not a power that is restricted to the punishment of breaches of their acknowledged privileges and so ANY act or omission which obstructs or impedes the House OR any member or officer of the House from discharging his or her duty may be treated as a contempt.

This is the case even if there is no precedent for the act or offence complained of.

In weighing whether or not to proceed against a person on a charge of contempt the House of Commons is guided by its resolution of February 1978, that such action should be taken ‘only when the House is satisfied that to do so is essential in the interests of reasonable protection against improper obstruction causing or likely to cause substantial interference with its functions’.  So it has to be important then!

There are many lists of examples of what amount to contempt, but recent events have highlighted the wide interpretation that can be applied.

One curious, academic point of view on all of the recent developments is that history and convention dictates that Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament are expected to offer their resignation to the Prime Minister. You can expect at least some quarters to call for that on THEIR interpretation of the government legal advice, if and when released. (I could wax on about legal privilege needing protection but that’s for anther day!).

Both Houses also are, in terms of these processes, outside the usual court remit. Called claiming the ‘exclusive cognisance of their proceedings’ this claim involves the exclusion of review by any court or other external body of the application of the procedure and practice of either House to the business before it.


None of this uncertainty is any good for the level of confidence, say to invest, held by the business community. The lawyer in me feels this is uncharted territory so let’s move forward and explore where things are… the businessman in me says ‘how do we fix this quickly and restore confidence to the market’.

You can’t Brexit proof yourself 100% when you can’t see into the future BUT you can find out how to increase the protection for your business in your trading terms, ask us how!! Otherwise we will keep a close eye on developments.

Stay connected with us so you can stay up to date…we are all the help you need.

Kevin Rogers


Kevin Rogers


Recognised as a ‘Leading Individual’ (one of only two in our region) by The Legal 500 (the ‘who’s who’ of law) Kevin is a Partner in our Commercial Litigation Team.