Woman challenges MPs' legal immunity

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The Independent Online

A single mother who claims her life was ruined when her MP used a debate in the House of Commons to name and shame her as the "neighbour from hell" begins an historic challenge to the law of parliamentary privilege today.

The woman from Bristol, referred to only as "A" in the European court proceedings, was forced to change her children's school and move out of the area after the former Conservative MP Michael Stern launched a scathing attack on her and her family.

Mr Stern used an adjournment debate in 1996 to repeat claims from neighbours about threatening behaviour, drug activity, and car crime which he claimed had become associated with the family. As a result Ms "A" received racist hate mail. Six years later she claims she is still being victimised because of comments made by the MP who lost his seat in 1997.

The civil rights group Liberty is representing her at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) today.

Under the law of parliamentary privilege an MP cannot be sued for anything said in the Commons or the Lords and so Ms "A" was barred from seeking redress in the British courts. If the ECHR rules in her favour an MP's absolute privilege could be watered down to one of qualified privilege.

The Government is defending the action.