• In the case of Re Parliamentary Privileges Act [1770] (The Strauss case) [1958] AC 331; (1958) 21 MLR 456, it was found that the Bill of Rights is the protective tool for the freedom of speech that is exercised by Members of Parliament.
  • This is so long as the Members of Parliament act within Parliamentary proceedings.

Facts of the Case

  • D, a Member of Parliament, sent a letter to a minister which involved defamatory statements against a company called British Electricity.
  • C, the London Electricity Board, sought to sue D by bringing a libel action and bringing to light the Parliamentary Privilege Act 1770. This Act states that an individual may prosecute an action or suit in any court against any person, regardless of whether that individual attracts parliamentary privilege.
  • For context, Article 9 of the Bill of Rights 1688 states the following: “The freedom of speech and debates or proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament.”
  • A potential breach of parliamentary privilege was recognised and discussed and the opinion of the Privy Council was requested.


  • Was there a breach of parliamentary privilege?
  • Was C able to use the Act as a threatening mechanism against the MP?

Held by the Privy Council

  • The Act was not capable of being used by C to threaten the MP for actions that were taken during the course of parliamentary proceedings, under Article 9 of the Bill of Rights.

Viscount Simmonds

  • It was emphasised that the use of the Act and its compatibility with the Bill of Rights would only see success where the proceedings were based on MPs and their ‘debts and actions as individuals’ rather than as them taking the form of Members of Parliament. [350]
  • “It is convenient to pause at these words which conclude the first section of the Act and to ask what is its scope. It is not in doubt that its language is comprehensive. It is apt to cover any suits, including suits for defamation whether in or out of Parliament, and in every case to bar the plea of any privilege of Parliament. It should therefore prima facie be read in this sense. But there are considerations, which will be strengthened by later sections, pointing to a necessary limitation of its meaning.” [349]
  • “For even if it is assumed, as the Attorney-General contended (and their Lordships do not pronounce upon it), that the mere issue of a writ for defamation in respect of a speech in Parliament is not a breach of privilege, the assumption does not assist his argument that the Act of 1770 is to be construed so as to cover suits against Members of Parliament in respect not only of their actions as individuals but also of their speeches in Parliament. Nor can it be relevant first to determine, as Sir Frank Soskice invited their Lordships to do, what would have been the state of the law if the Act of 1770 and the related Acts had not been passed.” [353]