Parliamentary privilege is nothing but the sum of the rights enjoyed by each House collectively as a constituent part of Parliament and by members of each House individually, without which they could not discharge their functions, and which exceed those possessed by other bodies or individuals. When any of these rights, both of the members individually and of the Assembly in its collective capacity, are disregarded or attacked by any individual or authority, the offence is called a breach of privilege. This is punishable under the law of Parliament.


No law has so far been enacted by Parliament (and state legislatures) regarding breach of privilege, and in the absence of any such law, the powers, privileges and immunities of the Houses of Parliament and state legislatures and of the members and the committees thereof continue in actual practice to be governed by the precedents of the British House of Commons, as they existed on the day our Constitution came into force.


Each House claims the right to punish actions that, though not breaches of any specific privilege, are offences against its authority or dignity, such as disobedience to its legitimate commands or libels upon itself, its officers and members. Article 105 of the Constitution lays down, for example, that there shall be freedom of speech in Parliament and “no MP shall be liable to any proceedings in any court in respect of anything said or any vote given by him in Parliament or any Committee thereof”.

Prominent Privileges

Freedom of speech in Parliament

Immunity to a member from any proceedings in any court in respect of anything said or any vote given by him in Parliament or any committees thereof

Immunity to a person from proceedings in any court in respect of the publication by or under the authority of either House of Parliament of any report, paper, votes or proceedings

Prohibition on the courts to inquire into proceedings of Parliament

Freedom from arrest of members in civil cases during the continuance of the session of the House and 40 days before its commencement and 40 days after its conclusion

Right of the House to receive immediate information of the arrest, detention, conviction, imprisonment arid release of a member

Members or officers of the House cannot give evidence or produce documents in courts of law, relating to the proceedings of the House, without the permission of the House

Each House also enjoys certain consequential powers such as to commit persons, whether they are member or not, for breach of privilege or contempt of the House; to compel the attendance of witnesses and to send for papers and records; to regulate its own procedure and the conduct of its business; to prohibit the publication of its debates and proceedings; and to exclude strangers from the House.

Power to Punish

Each House is the guardian of its own privileges. Courts of law have recognised that a House of Parliament (or of a state legislature) is the sole authority to judge as to whether or not there has been a breach of privilege or contempt of the House in a particular case. The House may punish a person found guilty of breach of privilege or contempt of the House either by reprimand or admonition or by imprisonment for a specified period. In case of its own members, it can award suspension from the service of the House or expulsion.

The penal jurisdiction of the House is not confined to its own members or to offences committed in its immediate presence, but extends to all contempts of the House.

Recent History

In March, the Maharashtra Assembly sentenced State Election Commissioner Nand Lal to two days in prison for alleged breach of privilege

In the first week of March this year, Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, warning of serious consequences of Parliament losing its sanctity, said, “even disturbances in the House are a breach of privilege, as technically, adjournment is a breach of privilege

In March again, RJD MP Devendra Prasad Yadav gave a notice of breach of privilege against Bal Thackeray for an editorial in ‘Saamna’ targeting Bihar MPs

In February this year, the Uttar Pradesh Assembly unanimously resolved to dismiss a query by a journalist of a monthly magazine under the RTI Act as a breach of privilege

In October 2006, Kerala MLA U C Raman alleged breach of privilege by Kunnamangalam block panchayat

In November 2003, the Tamil Nadu Assembly ordered the arrest of the editor of The Hindu for “gross act of breach of privilege”. Later, the Editor-in-chief of the newspaper got a Supreme Court interim stay on the order