Impeachment (2015)

Request

  1. Please provide me with information and statistics you have recorded on Impeachment.
  2. Has a Prime Minister ever been impeached?
  3. Have any Cabinet Ministers ever been impeached ?
  4. What is the procedure for impeachment?
  5. Can a Public Petition activate an impeachment investigation?
  6. Are Human Rights violations Grounds for Impeachment?
  7. Is interfering with the Rule of Law grounds for impeachment?

 

Response

Before answering your questions directly, it should be stated unequivocally that for all practical purposes the procedure of impeachment is obsolete. The last (unsuccessful) prosecution of an impeachment case was in 1806. The 1967 Select Committee on Parliamentary Privilege recommended that the right to impeach should be formally abandoned, for which legislation would have been necessary. The recommendation was repeated in the third report from the Committee on Privileges in 1976-77. However, the 1999 Report from the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege stated that ‘the circumstances in which impeachment has taken place are now so remote from the present that that the procedure may be considered obsolete’.

  1. Please provide me with information and statistics you have recorded on impeachment.
    The earliest recorded impeachment was that of Lord Latimer in 1376 and the last was in 1806, when Lord Melville (Dundas) was charged by the Commons, but acquitted, of misappropriating official funds. Before Melville, the last impeachment had been against Warren Hastings in 1787 in relation to his role in India. An attempt to impeach Ministers occurred in 1713 for their part in the negotiating the Treaty of Utrecht. The Jacobite lords were impeached in 1716 and 1746 for rebellion. The last attempt to persuade the Commons to bring an impeachment was against Palmerston as Foreign Secretary, when private members alleged a secret treaty with Russia. The preliminary motion was not successful. Impeachment has not been used since 1806.
    There have been fewer than seventy impeachments during the whole course of English history. There are two distinct periods in which impeachment was relatively common; firstly in the 14th century until the establishment of the Tudor dynasty and secondly in the 17-18th century. A quarter of all of them occurred in the years 1640-2.
  2. Has a Prime Minister ever been impeached?
    No Prime Minister has ever been impeached.
  3. Have any Cabinet Ministers ever been impeached?
    Ministers have been impeached, but before the modern concept of the Cabinet was established
  4. What is the procedure for impeachment?
    The first (and other early) editions of Erskine May discuss the procedure fairly fully. The first edition of May, in 1844, noted that:
    It rests, therefore, with the House of Commons to determine when an impeachment should be instituted. A member, in his place, first charges the accused of high treason or of certain high crimes and misdemeanours, and after supporting his charge with proofs, moves that he is impeached.
    There are also descriptions in Hatsell, Precedents of Proceedings in the House of Commons (1818), vol 4 and Hallam Constitutional History of England (any of the later 19th century editions). The procedure adopted in the trial of Warren Hastings is set out in `Speeches of the Managers and Counsel in the Trial of Warren Hastings 1788-92' ed. Bond (1859), vol 2. The procedure was usefully summarised in a footnote to paragraph 16 of the 1999 Report from the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege
    as follows:
    Under this ancient procedure, all persons, whether peers or commoners, may be prosecuted and tried by the two Houses for any crimes whatever. The House of Commons determines when an impeachment should be instituted. A member, in his place, first charges the accused of high treason, or of certain crimes and misdemeanours. After supporting his charge with proofs the member moves for impeachment. If the accusation is found on examination by the House to have sufficient grounds to justify further proceedings, the motion is put to the House. If agreed, a member (or members) are ordered by the House to go to the bar of the House of Lords. There, in the name of the House of Commons and of all the commons of the United Kingdom, the member impeaches the accused person. A Commons committee is then appointed to draw up articles of impeachment which are debated. When agreed they are ingrossed and delivered to the Lords. The Lords obtain written answers from the accused which are communicated to the Commons. The Commons may then communicate a reply to the Lords. If the accused is a peer, he is attached by order of that House. If a commoner, he is arrested by the Commons and delivered to Black Rod. The Lords may release the accused on bail. The Commons appoints ‘managers’ for the trial to prepare the evidence; but it is the Lords that summons witnesses. The accused may have summonses issued for the attendance of witnesses on his behalf, and is entitled to defence by counsel. When the case, including examination and re-examination, is concluded, the Lord High Steward puts to each peer, (beginning with the junior baron) the question on the first of the charges: then to each peer the question on the second charge and so on. If found guilty, judgment is not pronounced unless and until demanded by the Commons (which may, at this stage, pardon the accused). An impeachment may continue from session to session, or over a dissolution. Under the Act of Settlement the sovereign has no right of pardon.
  5. Can a Public Petition activate an impeachment investigation?
    A Public Petition could ask for impeachment proceedings to commence, but it would not in itself be an effective proceeding of impeachment.
  6. Are Human Rights violations grounds for impeachment?
    And
  7. Is interfering with the rule of law grounds for impeachment?
    The grounds for impeachment are – in theory only – a matter for the House of Commons to decide.