Chapter 2 - Parliamentary Privilege: immunities and powers of the Senate

Executive privilege

Another use of the word “privilege”, which is indirectly related to parliamentary immunities and powers, is in the expression “Crown privilege”, more recently called “executive privilege” or “public interest immunity”. This term refers to a claim of the executive government to be immune from being required to present certain documents or information to the courts or to the Houses of Parliament.

The courts have determined the law of executive privilege in respect of the courts, but only the Houses of Parliament can determine whether they admit the existence of such a privilege in relation to documents or information required by the Houses, or whether they will insist upon the production of documents and information which they require. The Senate has not conceded the existence of any conclusive executive privilege in relation to its proceedings. The matter is more fully discussed in Chapter 19, Relations with the Executive Government, under public interest immunity. For a comprehensive examination of the matter, see the 2nd report of the Committee of Privileges, 7 October 1975 (PP 215/1975); the speech by Senator the Hon. R.C. Wright in the Senate on 17 February 1977 (SD, pp 175-9); and the 49th Report of the Committee of Privileges, 19 September 1994 (PP 171/1994).

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