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Freedom of Speech (aka Privilege) debate

The BBC have a video of the debate here.

What I find surprising is that Withers have not apologised. The last time this happened (in 1981) the firm concerned apologised by telegram before the motion was moved.

There was a case with some similarities in Australia in 2006. The report can be found here. A law firm was found guilty of contempt for threatening defamation proceedings linked to a speech in parliament.

Quoting from the findings:

The Committee finds that the provision of information by Mr Cannard to
Mr Leighton for use in the House, as part of his role in representing his
constituents, was a proceeding in parliament and therefore protected by
parliamentary privilege. The letter sent by Mills Oakley Lawyers to
Mr Cannard constituted an attempt to interfere with the provision of this
information and is therefore a breach of privilege.

In relation to the question of whether the threat of adverse action against a
constituent could be considered an improper means to influence a member of
Parliament in the performance of their duties, the Committee finds that, in this
case, a contempt has occurred and notes:
• the subsequent letter of apology to Mr Leighton from Mills Oakley Lawyers
cannot alter the fact that the letter to the constituent had the effect, or was
intended to have the effect, of preventing the flow of information from
constituent to member and of hindering the member in the exercise of his
parliamentary duties;
• the threat of adverse action against the constituent can be seen as a contempt
in cases where the threat is intended, or could be reasonably expected to
have the effect, to prevent a member carrying out his or her duties as a
member of the House.

The Australian case has relevance to those people who threaten constituents who wish to talk to MPs.


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