New proposals to strengthen democratic system
22nd January 2021
The Privileges and Procedures Committee (PPC) has today lodged a draft Law designed to strengthen Jersey’s democratic system by clarifying and modernising “parliamentary privilege”.
Parliamentary privilege – the rules which uphold the special constitutional status of the Island’s democratically-elected legislature – the States Assembly – covers:
Freedom of speech for States Members and other people who contribute to Assembly proceedings (such as people appearing before scrutiny panels); and
The Assembly’s freedom to set its own internal rules and procedures.
- Key features of the updated (draft) Law include:
- A clear statement of what parliamentary privilege means in practice and a definition of the “States proceedings” covered by parliamentary privilege, based on Australian legislation.
- Clear rules about when Assembly material, such as Hansard, can be used in court proceedings.
- Qualified protection for Members’ correspondence with the public, if sent in their capacity as elected Members and undertaken without malice.
- An update to the offence: “contempt”, dealing with intentional and significant interference with the work of the States or its committees and panels.
- Statutory confirmation that the Assembly’s rules are not within the jurisdiction of the Royal Court.
These updates have been brought forward following a review by Sir Malcolm Jack, a former Clerk of the UK House of Commons which showed the need to update key aspects of the law.
Deputy Russell Labey, the Chair of PPC, said: “Free speech in parliamentary bodies like the States Assembly is vital. It enables States Members – and people giving evidence to scrutiny panels – to speak openly and truthfully without fear of being taking into court by people who would prefer them to be silenced. Without parliamentary privilege legislatures cannot function effectively and our democratic system would be seriously undermined. These changes bring our law up to date, in line with best practice elsewhere in the Commonwealth, which I hope will provide reassurance to anyone considering standing for election in 2022.”
Parliamentary privilege does not exempt States Members from investigation or arrest for criminal offences.
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