Created: Friday, 02 October 2020 16:34
Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 November 2020 17:11
Parliamentary privilege and the Inquiry
Parliamentary privilege refers to the special powers that ensure any proceedings, reports or documents published, or accepted in camera (confidentially), by the Committee cannot be used in a court of law.
Statements which attract Parliamentary privilege, such as submissions and evidence given in hearings, may not form the basis of civil proceedings (including defamation or breach of confidence) or criminal proceedings (including proceedings for perjury) under any circumstances.
Parliamentary privilege and submissions
Parliamentary privilege applies to all things stated in written submissions that have been accepted by the Committee.
There are three types of submissions:
The name of the individual or organisation that made the submission will be published. Parliamentary privilege may not apply to reproduction of submissions on a website or forum other than the Committee’s.
The Committee may accept a submission on a confidential basis when confidentiality is requested. Confidentiality will generally be granted when people or organisations believe that giving evidence may have an adverse effect on them or their families. Confidential submissions will be used to inform Committee deliberations but will not be published or quoted in a report of the Committee.
Name withheld submissions
Due to the sensitive nature of this Inquiry, the Committee will not publish the name of individuals or organisations, on request, if revealing their identity would increase their vulnerability or cause distress. It may apply to people making submissions who would like the content of their submission to be made available publicly, but who do not want their identity known (such as victims of abuse) or who may suffer detrimental treatment from third parties because of the evidence they provide. The Committee will only publish those parts of the name withheld submission which do not contain specific allegations, and the parts of the submission which do contain specific allegations will be treated as evidence received or taken in private.
Parliamentary privilege and hearings
Parliamentary privilege applies to evidence given to the Committee in a public hearing and to all evidence taken by the Committee in private (in camera).
Frequently asked questions
What if I’m uncomfortable with my submission being made public and want it treated as confidential?
You may request that your submission be treated as confidential if you believe giving evidence may have an adverse effect on you or your family. Confidential submissions will be used to inform Committee deliberations but will not be disclosed or published in any way.
What if I want my identity protected but I want the contents of my submission to be made public?
The Committee will not publish the name of the individual or organisation who made the submission if revealing their identity would increase their vulnerability or cause distress. The Committee may hide information in the submission that identifies the author and will not publish parts of the submission that make specific allegations.
Who is covered by Parliamentary privilege?
Parliamentary privilege extends to people who appear as a witness before the Committee, people who make submissions to the Committee, as well as to the Committee members.
What does Parliamentary privilege not cover?
Submissions may not be accepted by the Committee if they do not address the Terms of Reference of the Inquiry or are frivolous or offensive. Submissions that are not accepted by the Committee are not covered by Parliamentary privilege. If a submission is not accepted by the Committee then its contents will not be used during the Inquiry or published by the Committee in any way.
Parliamentary privilege does not apply if the Committee refuses to hear evidence because it is outside the Terms of Reference or is frivolous or offensive. (This is unusual as the person giving evidence at a hearing will be warned by the Committee when this is about to happen.)
Parliamentary privilege does not necessarily apply to the publication of a submission on a website or forum other than the Committee’s.
Parliamentary privilege does not necessarily apply to verbal statements made outside of a Parliamentary forum, even if they are the same as oral evidence given at a hearing.
What legislation relates to Parliamentary privilege?
The privileges granted by the provisions set out in this section may be referred to collectively as Parliamentary privilege as it relates to this Inquiry.
Section 19 of the Constitution Act 1975 (Vic) provides that the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council, the members of the Parliament and the committees of the Parliament shall hold such powers, privileges and immunities as were held by the British House of Commons on 21 July 1855. The powers, privileges and immunities of the Parliament include those provided for in the Bill of Rights of 1689. Article 9 of the Bill of Rights declares:
That 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.
Section 73 of the Constitution Act protects a person from any civil or criminal proceeding in respect of the authorised publication of any report, paper or proceedings of a House of Parliament or a parliamentary committee.
Section 43(1)(e) and (f) of the Constitution Act empowers the Legislative Council to make standing rules and orders in respect of the conduct of its business and proceedings, and the publication of its proceedings. Legislative Council Standing Orders relating to witnesses state:
Standing Order 17.09
All witnesses examined before the Council or any Council committee will be entitled to the protection of the Council in respect of anything that may be said by them in their evidence.
Standing Order 17.11
If it appears that any person has —
(a) by fraud, intimidation, force or threat of any kind, by the offer or promise of any inducement of benefit of any kind, or by other improper means, influence another person in respect of any evidence given or to be given before the Council or a committee; or
(b) been directly or indirectly endeavouring to deter or hinder any person from appearing or giving evidence; or
(c) given any evidence which they know to be false or misleading in any case before the Council or any committee —
such person may be declared guilty of contempt.