The case of A v The United Kingdom [2002] ECHR 811 is a crucial case that assessed the balance between parliamentary privilege and individual rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. This case summary will present the legal principle, the facts, and the judgment of the case as well as its significance on the development of the law and answers to most common exam questions. 

  • In the case of A v The United Kingdom [2002] ECHR 811, [2003] 36 EHRR 51, 13 BHRC 623, it was found that Parliamentary privilege has compatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights, specifically Article 6 which refers to the right to a fair hearing.

Facts of the Case A v The United Kingdom

  • The social housing association provided accommodation to C where C experiences racism.
  • The association then moved C to an alternative accommodation in 1994.
  • Two years later D, the local MP, began a debate in Parliament on municipal ousting policy during which the MP made references to both C and C’s family, describing C as a “neighbour from hell.”
  • D made accusatory statements against C by stating that C engaged in criminal activities.
  • C denies the allegations raised by D for which D failed to communicate with C and also didn’t verify the truthfulness of D’s comments against C.
  • The press began to mention C’s name and address and portrayed C in the same light as D did.
  • As a result, C faced bullying and harassment in the form of hate letters and public abuse by strangers.


  • Is there a clash between parliamentary privilege and the right to a fair hearing and private life?

Held by the European Court of Human Rights

  • The need to protect free speech in Parliament for MPs, which is the embodiment of parliamentary privilege, can legitimately justify the restrictions on Convention rights in Articles 6, 1, 8, 13 and 14.

Judge Costa

  • The judge found no infringement of C’s Convention rights and upholds parliamentary privilege above an individual’s invasion of private life.
  • “The absolute nature of the immunity enjoyed by members of Parliament in respect of their statements serves an interest that is so important as to justify the denial of access to a court to seek redress.”
  • “Irrespective of the seriousness of the interference with the applicant’s private and family life as a result of the speech by a member of Parliament, her rights under Article 6, 1 and Article 8 of the Convention were not infringed.”

Significance of A v The United Kingdom

The decision in A v The United Kingdom significantly impacted the interpretation and application of human rights laws, particularly concerning the scope of parliamentary privilege. By upholding the absolute nature of parliamentary immunity, the European Court of Human Rights reinforced the principle that the free speech of Members of Parliament, as an expression of parliamentary privilege, is a fundamental component of legislative freedom and democracy. This case serves as a crucial reference for evaluating the limits of legislative protections and their implications on individual rights, establishing a precedent that parliamentary speech, regardless of its impact on individuals, is protected from judicial scrutiny to preserve democratic discourse.

Exam Questions and Answers

Below, you will find answers to the most common exam questions based on this case:

How might this ruling influence the behaviour of MPs in their parliamentary contributions, particularly when discussing identifiable individuals?

The ruling may deter MPs from openly discussing sensitive issues involving identifiable individuals in parliamentary sessions. However, it also reaffirms the need for MPs to express concerns freely, possibly leading to more careful phrasing to avoid legal repercussions while still engaging in robust debate.

What reforms could be proposed to ensure a balance between necessary parliamentary privilege and the protection of individual rights?

To balance parliamentary privilege with individual rights, reforms could include introducing clearer guidelines on what constitutes abuse of privilege and establishing a mechanism for reviewing potentially harmful statements without undermining legislative immunity.

How does the protection of parliamentary speech in the UK compare with similar privileges in other democratic systems, and what lessons can be learned from these comparisons?

In other democracies like the USA, parliamentary immunity also broadly protects legislators, but the balance between free speech and individual rights varies. Lessons from such systems could guide the UK in refining the scope of parliamentary privilege to better protect individuals without stifling democratic debate.

Editor’s Notes

It is interesting to see the court’s approach towards the scope of parliamentary privilege, despite the defamatory statements, bullying and harassment experienced by C. an argument to support the decision of the court is that D’s statements were mere opinions as opposed to fact, therefore his statements could be classed as misinformation. However, it can also be argued that given the press manipulated the statements which resulted in further consequence for C could mean that C deserved to receive some form of damages, which was discussed by Judge Loucaide in their dissenting opinion.