Viscountess Rhondda’s Claim: HL 1922

(Committee of Privileges of the House of Lords) Viscountess Rhondda asserted a right to sit in the House of Lords as a member, relying on the 1919 Act.
Held: It is incorrect for a court to draw conclusions from such elements of the Parliamentary history of the legislation as the proposal and rejection of amendments. It is the sole right of the Committee to decide who was entitled to receive the Writ of Summons and Lord Lyndhurst said that if a person is entitled to a writ, but the Crown does not issue one, then his remedy is to petition the House.
Lord Birkenhead LC said: ‘The rule that the words of an instrument shall be taken most strictly against the party employing them – verba chartarum fortius accipiuntur contra proferentem – does not apply to the Crown such a grant is construed most strictly against the grantee and most beneficially for the Crown, so that nothing will pass to the grantee but by clear and express words.’ It was the duty of the Committee for Privileges to consider whether she was entitled to receive a Writ of Summons: ‘The writ is not to be issued capriciously or withheld capriciously at the pleasure of the Sovereign or of this House. It is to be issued, or withheld, according to the law relating to the matter, and if, under that law, it appears that there is a debt of justice to the petitioner in that matter, the writ will issue and, if not, it cannot issue.’
Lord Lyndhurst said: ‘If a Writ of Summons is improperly withheld, your Lordships can insist upon its being issued. You may address the Crown for that purpose if you think proper. If that address to the Crown is unavailing, there is a remedy that in a remarkable case has been resorted to and which was effectual to attain its object. The Peers in Parliament, in that case, refused to proceed to business until the Writ of Summons was issued and until the House was properly constituted, and the historian who records this fact says that the means adopted were so effectual that the King was induced to issue the Writ of Summons and that the abuse of which they complained never occurred again. That is a remedy when the Writ of Summons is withheld. On the other hand, when a party has obtruded himself upon the House in which he has no right to sit, the remedy is equally plain. It is your duty to direct your Officers to refuse to administer the oaths, or allow the party to take his seat.’


Viscount Haldane, Lord Birkenhead LC


[1922] 2 AC 339


Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919


England and Wales


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Cited by:

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CitedMereworth v Ministry of Justice ChD 23-May-2011
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CitedLynn Shellfish Ltd and Others v Loose and Another SC 13-Apr-2016
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Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Litigation Practice, Constitutional, Discrimination

Updated: 13 May 2022; Ref: scu.231154