Parliamentary privilege and peeping toms
By Amien Hoosain
Chagnon v National Assembly of Québec, a decision of the Supreme Court of Canada (the apex Court) on 5 October 2018, dealt with the nature and limits of parliamentary privilege.
The President of the National Assembly of Québec dismissed three security guards for using the Parliament’s security cameras to observe activities inside nearby hotel rooms. Their union raised a grievance before a labour arbitrator, and the President objected to the jurisdiction of the arbitrator on the basis that the decision to dismiss the guards was immune from review by virtue of it being subject to –
|–||the parliamentary privilege over the management of employees; and|
|–||the parliamentary privilege to exclude strangers from the legislative assembly.|
The arbitrator ruled that neither privilege applied. The President took the arbitrator’s ruling on judicial review to the Superior Court, and that Court held that the privilege to exclude strangers did not apply, but that privilege the over the management of employees did apply. The union then brought the case before the Court of Appeal, and won. The President appealed to the Supreme Court.
The minority (two Judges) would have found in favour of the President. But the majority (seven Judges) found in favour of the union (and the three security guards).
“[T]he inherent nature of parliamentary privilege means that its existence and scope must be strictly anchored to its rationale. It is the role of the courts to determine whether a category of parliamentary privilege exists and to delimit its scope … The scope of parliamentary privilege is delimited by the purposes it serves, and extends only so far as is necessary to protect legislators in the discharge of their legislative and deliberative functions, and the legislative assembly’s work in holding the government to account for the conduct of the country’s business.”
“The management of the guards could be dealt with under ordinary law without impeding the National Assembly’s security or its ability to legislate and deliberate“.
How would this case have been decided in South Africa? The Constitutional Court is likely to agree with the majority decision.