Parliamentary Privilege – Chaytor returns

Master (Victoria) McCloud today gave judgement on (to summarise) a Strike-Out application involving questions of Parliamentary Privilege. Since it seems to have been a preliminary application (thus its coming before the Master), the factual background is left obscure – this was a ruling on the law. It is possible that this case in the Supreme Court of St Helena (click left) has some relevance – but it may well not, and critical readers are reminded of the law of qualified privilege.

The law decided (with a proper hesitation, one says with great respect) by the Master today may be a delayed impact of the R v Chaytor case some years ago (see here for the Supreme Court [2010] version), about which the writer (and doubtless many weightier others) expressed the concern that the soon-to-be-convicted MPs’ pleas of parliamentary privilege would bring the whole concept into disrepute, such that the Speaker and House might one day regret their (apparent) non-intervention in that litigation.

The case is called Warsama and Gannon v FCO and others [2018] EWHC 1461 (QB). The Claimants objected (vehemently, it seems) to a Report commissioned by the FCO and drawn up after inquiries (not under statute) by a QC, into a matter in which the Claimants were in some way (or allegedly, as the case may be) involved. They complained both about the content of the report (apparently it criticised them) and about the way in which it was drawn up, which they considered unfair. Because the Report was published on Parliament’s orders, there was naturally a plea of Parliamentary Privilege and Art 9 Bill of Rights. The Claimants responded with Art 8 ECHR and the Human Rights Act, saying their reputations were damaged.

With an obvious lack of enthusiasm, and granting Leave to Appeal all round without (it seems) even hearing argument on the point, so that the Court of Appeal could look at the matter shortly,* Master McCloud held:

(1) However much of a formality at Government request the Parliament’s order to publish (‘an Unopposed Return’) was, its content was just about covered by Article 9;

(2) But that did not bar legal complaint about the way the inquiry was conducted, and a Human Rights complaint was possible in respect of that.

*ie ‘soon’ – ‘briefly’ seems unlikely in the circumstances. The Supreme Court are tagged for this on the basis that it could easily end up there.

An interesting feature of the Master’s judgement is the easy-to-read summary on the front. The judgement as a whole seems written to be read comfortably by people who are not lawyers (which may cause lawyers some difficulty, but-), but the summary sums up the judgement in quite exceptionally simple language – one hopes, successfully.

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