Define: Writ Of Privilege

Writ Of Privilege
Writ Of Privilege
Quick Summary of Writ Of Privilege

A writ of privilege is a legal document that ensures or upholds a privilege. It is commonly employed to obtain the freedom of an individual who is eligible for the privilege but has been apprehended in a civil lawsuit. For instance, let’s consider a scenario where a person is a member of parliament and gets arrested for a civil offence. However, being a member of parliament grants them the privilege of immunity from arrest. In such a situation, the person can use a writ of privilege to secure their release. This example demonstrates how a writ of privilege can be used to guarantee the release of an individual who is entitled to immunity from arrest. It is important to note that besides being a member of parliament, there may be other circumstances where an individual is eligible for privilege from arrest, such as being a diplomat or a judge.

What is the dictionary definition of Writ Of Privilege?
Dictionary Definition of Writ Of Privilege

A legal document known as a writ of privilege serves to safeguard an individual’s unique rights or privileges. In situations where an individual’s status or position should exempt them from arrest in a civil case, the writ can be used to secure their release.

Full Definition Of Writ Of Privilege

The writ of privilege is a historical legal concept rooted in the common law tradition, primarily originating from medieval England. It pertains to certain immunities and protections granted to individuals or groups, often related to their status or position. This legal overview will explore the origins, development, and current relevance of the writ of privilege, examining its various forms and implications in the legal landscape of the United Kingdom.

Historical Background

The concept of privilege in English law dates back to the medieval period when various classes and individuals were granted specific immunities and rights. These privileges were often enshrined in writs issued by the monarch or the courts. The writ of privilege was one such instrument, used to exempt certain individuals from the jurisdiction of ordinary courts or specific legal obligations.


The origins of the writ of privilege can be traced to the feudal system, where the King and the nobility enjoyed extensive rights and immunities. These privileges were not merely honorary but had practical legal implications. For instance, members of the clergy and the nobility were often exempt from certain taxes and legal processes. Over time, these exemptions were formalised through writs of privilege, which were legal documents issued by the crown or the courts.

Development in Common Law

As the common law system developed, the writ of privilege became more structured and its application more defined. The courts recognised various forms of privilege, including parliamentary privilege, attorney-client privilege, and judicial privilege. These privileges were intended to protect the integrity and functioning of certain institutions and relationships within the legal system.

Types of Privilege

The writ of privilege encompasses several distinct types, each with its legal basis and implications. The most significant forms of privilege recognised in English law are parliamentary privilege, legal professional privilege, and judicial privilege.

Parliamentary Privilege

Parliamentary privilege is one of the most well-known forms of privilege in the United Kingdom. It grants members of Parliament (MPs) certain immunities to ensure the effective functioning of the legislative process. The two primary components of parliamentary privilege are freedom of speech and freedom from arrest.

  1. Freedom of Speech: This privilege allows MPs to speak freely during parliamentary debates without the risk of being sued for defamation or other legal actions based on their statements. This immunity is crucial for fostering open and honest debate within Parliament.
  2. Freedom from Arrest: MPs are generally immune from arrest in civil matters while Parliament is in session and for a certain period before and after each session. This protection ensures that MPs can perform their legislative duties without undue interference.

Parliamentary privilege is enshrined in the Bill of Rights 1689 and continues to be a fundamental aspect of the UK’s constitutional framework.

Legal Professional Privilege

Legal professional privilege (LPP) is a cornerstone of the legal system, protecting the confidentiality of communications between lawyers and their clients. LPP is divided into two main categories:

  1. Advice Privilege: This applies to communications between a lawyer and their client made for the purpose of seeking or giving legal advice. The privilege ensures that clients can communicate openly with their lawyers without fear that these communications will be disclosed.
  2. Litigation Privilege: This covers communications between a lawyer, their client, and third parties made in the context of litigation. It protects documents and communications created for the dominant purpose of preparing for existing or anticipated litigation.

LPP is vital for maintaining the integrity of the legal process, allowing clients to seek legal advice and representation without compromising their position.

Judicial Privilege

Judicial privilege refers to the immunities and protections afforded to judges and other judicial officers. This privilege ensures that judges can perform their duties independently and without fear of personal liability. Key aspects of judicial privilege include:

  • Immunity from Suit: Judges are generally immune from being sued for actions taken in their official capacity. This protection is crucial for maintaining judicial independence and ensuring that judges can make decisions based on the law and facts without undue influence.
  • Freedom of Expression: Judicial officers enjoy a certain degree of freedom of expression in their judgments and during court proceedings. This privilege allows them to articulate their reasoning and decisions openly, contributing to the transparency and accountability of the judiciary.

Modern Application and Relevance

While the writ of privilege has historical roots, its principles continue to be relevant in modern legal practice. The core idea of protecting certain communications and actions to ensure the effective functioning of institutions remains pertinent.

Parliamentary Privilege Today

Parliamentary privilege continues to play a critical role in the functioning of the UK Parliament. It enables MPs to debate issues freely and hold the government to account without fear of legal repercussions. However, the scope and limits of parliamentary privilege have been subject to scrutiny and legal challenges. For example, the courts have occasionally been called upon to determine whether certain actions fall within the scope of parliamentary privilege.

Legal Professional Privilege in Contemporary Practice

Legal professional privilege remains a fundamental aspect of the legal profession. The principles governing LPP are well-established, but challenges arise in specific contexts, such as regulatory investigations and international disputes. Courts have been tasked with balancing the need for confidentiality with other legal and public interests. For instance, in cases involving allegations of fraud or serious misconduct, the courts may need to consider whether LPP should be upheld or if exceptions should be made.

Judicial Privilege and Accountability

Judicial privilege continues to be essential for preserving judicial independence. However, there is an ongoing debate about the balance between judicial immunity and accountability. While judges must be protected from undue influence, there are mechanisms in place, such as judicial review and disciplinary procedures, to address instances of misconduct or abuse of power.

Case Law and Legal Precedents

The interpretation and application of the writ of privilege have been shaped by various legal precedents and case law. Significant cases have helped define the boundaries and implications of different types of privilege.

Parliamentary Privilege Cases

One notable case is Bradlaugh v. Gossett (1884), where the court upheld the principle that parliamentary privilege prevents the courts from intervening in the internal proceedings of Parliament. This case reinforced the autonomy of Parliament in managing its affairs.

Another important case is R v. Chaytor (2010), which involved MPs charged with false accounting related to their expenses. The Supreme Court ruled that the actions in question did not fall within the scope of parliamentary privilege, demonstrating that privilege is not absolute and has limits, particularly in cases of criminal conduct.

Legal Professional Privilege Cases

The case of Three Rivers District Council v. Governor and Company of the Bank of England (2004) clarified the scope of legal advice privilege, particularly regarding internal communications within an organisation. The court emphasised that LPP applies only to communications between the client and the lawyer, not to communications within the client’s organisation unless they are specifically seeking legal advice.

In Serious Fraud Office v. Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation Ltd (2018), the Court of Appeal reaffirmed the principles of litigation privilege, highlighting that documents prepared for the dominant purpose of litigation, even if not directly communicated to a lawyer, can be protected under LPP.

Judicial Privilege Cases

Cases involving judicial privilege are relatively rare, given the robust protections afforded to judges. However, the principles are occasionally tested in cases where judicial actions are challenged. For example, in McC v. Mullan (1984), the House of Lords upheld the immunity of judges from being sued for actions taken in their judicial capacity, reaffirming the importance of judicial privilege in maintaining an independent judiciary.

Statutory Framework and Reforms

The principles underlying the writ of privilege are also reflected in various statutes and legal reforms. Legislative provisions often codify and clarify the scope of different types of privilege.

Parliamentary Privilege Act 1770

The Parliamentary Privilege Act 1770 is one of the key statutes that formalised aspects of parliamentary privilege. It outlined the protections afforded to MPs and the limits of such privileges, contributing to the legal framework governing parliamentary immunities.

Legal Services Act 2007

The Legal Services Act 2007 addresses aspects of legal professional privilege, particularly in the context of regulatory oversight and the provision of legal services. It provides a statutory basis for certain privileges while ensuring that regulatory bodies can effectively oversee the legal profession.

Constitutional Reform Act 2005

The Constitutional Reform Act 2005 significantly reformed the judiciary in the United Kingdom, including provisions related to judicial independence and accountability. While it did not directly alter judicial privilege, it reinforced the principles underpinning judicial immunities and established mechanisms for addressing judicial conduct.

Contemporary Issues and Challenges

Despite the well-established nature of the writ of privilege, contemporary issues and challenges continue to arise. These challenges often involve balancing the principles of privilege with other legal and societal interests.

Technological Advances and Confidentiality

The advent of digital communication and technology poses new challenges for the application of legal professional privilege. The increasing use of electronic communications and data storage requires robust measures to ensure the confidentiality of privileged communications. Courts and legal practitioners must navigate issues related to data breaches, cyber security, and the admissibility of electronic evidence.

Globalisation and Cross-Border Legal Issues

Globalisation and the increasing prevalence of cross-border legal issues have implications for the application of privilege. Different jurisdictions have varying rules and interpretations of privilege, leading to complex legal scenarios. Legal practitioners must be aware of these differences and navigate the challenges of maintaining privilege in international disputes and regulatory investigations.

Public Interest and Transparency

There is an ongoing debate about the balance between privilege and public interest, particularly in cases involving allegations of serious misconduct or corruption. Courts and lawmakers must consider whether exceptions to privilege should be made in certain circumstances to promote transparency and accountability.


The writ of privilege remains a vital aspect of the legal framework in the United Kingdom, providing essential protections for parliamentary proceedings, legal communications, and judicial independence. While its historical roots are deep, the principles underlying the writ of privilege continue to evolve in response to contemporary challenges and societal changes.

Understanding the various forms of privilege and their implications is crucial for legal practitioners, lawmakers, and the public. As technology advances, globalisation intensifies, and societal expectations shift, the balance between privilege and other legal principles will continue to be a dynamic and evolving area of law.

The ongoing dialogue and legal developments surrounding the writ of privilege underscore its importance in maintaining the integrity and functionality of key institutions within the UK’s legal system. By navigating these challenges thoughtfully and carefully, the principles of privilege can continue to serve their essential role in protecting the rights and interests of individuals and institutions alike.

Writ Of Privilege FAQ'S

A Writ of Privilege is a legal document that grants certain rights or immunities to an individual or organisation, typically in relation to legal proceedings or government actions.

Any individual or organisation that believes they are entitled to certain rights or immunities can request a Writ of Privilege. This can include individuals facing legal actions, government officials, or organisations involved in specific activities.

The rights or immunities granted through a Writ of Privilege can vary depending on the specific circumstances and jurisdiction. They can include protection from arrest, exemption from certain legal obligations, or the ability to withhold certain information in court proceedings.

To apply for a Writ of Privilege, you will typically need to consult with an attorney who specializes in this area of law. They will guide you through the application process, which may involve submitting relevant documents and providing evidence to support your claim.

Yes, a Writ of Privilege can be challenged or revoked if it is found that the individual or organisation no longer meets the criteria for the granted rights or immunities. This can occur if there is evidence of abuse or misuse of the privileges.

The duration of a Writ of Privilege can vary depending on the specific circumstances and jurisdiction. Some may have a specific expiration date, while others may remain in effect until certain conditions are met or revoked by a court.

Yes, if a Writ of Privilege is denied or revoked, the affected individual or organisation can appeal the decision. This typically involves filing an appeal with a higher court and presenting arguments to support the claim for the Writ of Privilege.

Yes, there can be limitations to the rights or immunities granted through a Writ of Privilege. These limitations are usually outlined in the specific terms of the Writ and may be subject to certain conditions or restrictions.

While a Writ of Privilege can provide certain protections, it cannot be used to completely avoid criminal charges. It may, however, provide certain legal defences or procedural advantages that can be used in the criminal proceedings.

Yes, a Writ of Privilege can be used in civil cases to assert certain rights or immunities. However, the specific applicability and effectiveness of the Writ will depend on the laws and regulations of the jurisdiction in which the case is being heard.

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This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 9th June 2024.

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